Ukrainian Wheat Becomes a Reason for Controversy with the EU

Politics - May 13, 2023

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia Stop Importing Wheat from Ukraine to Defend Internal Market Against European Directives

Some Eastern European nations have begun a standoff against the European Commission in relation to the import of Ukrainian grain. After the halt by Hungary and Poland, Slovakia has also decided to safeguard internal trade, according to the new government directives, by stopping imports from Kiev. Another reason given to justify the new stance of the three Eastern European nations is the presence of pesticides in Ukrainian wheat destined for refining flour.

In the meantime, the European Parliament is trying to stem the emergency by wary of unilateral actions that could push other countries to take similar decisions on the import of Ukrainian wheat despite the idea already widespread in other Eastern European nations, that the internal agriculture market and the health of citizens may be in danger.

In recent weeks, the delegations of Ukraine and Poland have started negotiations on the import of Ukrainian agricultural products, with particular attention paid to cereals destined for transit in Poland but directed to other countries and it is hoped that an agreement can be signed soon that it can also remain effective in the current European directive. The Warsaw government requests, by the way, that the European Commission amend the existing legislation regarding trade with other countries by Ukraine so as to allow for a uniform distribution, of all goods originating from the state in war, throughout Europe so as to not accumulate them only in Poland or other neighbouring countries.

The dispute between the Eastern European nations and the European Commission, which has been going on for weeks now, was triggered for various reasons but the most relevant one is linked to the massive presence of Ukrainian wheat in the territories of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia which has caused its prices to fall to the detriment of domestic production, which has never been in such difficulty. On the basis of the agreements, however difficult, between Ukraine and Russia amidst the remains of a common bureaucracy, the passage of grain through neighbouring nations is practically obligatory but redistribution towards Africa and the Middle East is made almost impossible due to lack of adequate resources. For these reasons, all the grain exported from Ukraine, and which lately represents one of the very few forms of income for citizens affected by the conflict with Russia, remains in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, greatly reducing the price and creating risks for the internal product with all the related activities.

The protests of farmers affected by the excessive presence of Ukrainian wheat at home has already led to the resignation of the Polish agriculture minister with the consequent destabilization of the entire government. Protesters have also physically blocked, in recent weeks, some rail convoys loaded with grain from Ukraine. From Warsaw and Bratislava there were the first responses against the current immobility of the European Parliament on the subject and, despite confirming the close collaboration with Kiev in this delicate period, the government leaders have temporarily blocked the import of wheat from Ukraine and, soon after, Hungary and Bulgaria took similar decisions, to protect the interests of citizens.

The European Commission did not like the initiatives taken independently by the Eastern European nations affected by the problem and from Brussels they let it be known that the continent’s trade policy should remain a complete EU competence without unilateral actions by the member countries. The problem linked to Ukrainian wheat, according to political analysts, could be used to disengage from the European strategies envisaged to deal with the current crisis, by those nations that have never agreed on the actions promoted by the European Parliament.