WARSAW, April 16 (Reuters) – Unilateral action on trade by EU member states is unacceptable after Poland and Hungary imposed a ban on grain and other food imports from Ukraine to protect the local agricultural sector, a European Commission spokesman said on Sunday.
After Russia’s invasion blockaded some Black Sea ports, large quantities of Ukrainian grain, cheaper than that produced in the EU, remained in central European states as logistical bottlenecks hit prices and sales for local farmers.
The issue has created a political problem for Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in an election year, as it has angered people in rural areas where support for PiS is typically high.
“We are aware of the announcements by Poland and Hungary regarding the ban on imports of grain and other agricultural products from Ukraine,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “In this context, it is important to underline that trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU and, therefore, unilateral measures will not be accepted.”
“In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU,” the statement added.
Poland and Hungary have long-standing conflicts with Brussels over issues including judicial independence, media freedom and LGBT rights, and both have withheld funding due to concerns over the rule of law.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Agriculture Minister Yavor Kechev said the country is considering banning Ukrainian grain imports, local agency BTA reported on Sunday.
The Polish ban, which came into effect on Saturday evening, will also apply to the transport of these products across the country, the Minister of Development and Technology said on Sunday.
“The embargo is complete, including the ban on transit through Poland,” Waldemar Buda wrote on Twitter, adding that negotiations with the Ukrainian side would be held to create a system that would ensure the delivery of goods only through Poland and would not end on the local side. market.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Agricultural Policy and Food said on Saturday that the Polish ban contradicted existing bilateral agreements on exports and called for talks to resolve the issue.
Ukraine’s state-run Ukrinform news agency said Ukrainian and Polish ministers are due to meet in Poland on Monday and will focus on talks on transport arrangements.
Poland’s Agriculture Minister Robert Delus was quoted on Sunday as saying, “This ban is necessary to open the EU’s eyes, allowing products from Ukraine to go into Europe and not stay in Poland.”
Ukraine exports most of its agricultural products, particularly grain, through Black Sea ports that were lifted in July under an agreement between Ukraine, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations.
That deal expires on May 18 and Moscow indicated last week that it would not be extended unless the West lifted sanctions on Russian grain and fertilizer exports.
According to the Ukrainian ministry, about 3 million tons of grain leave Ukraine every month through the Black Sea grain route.
Between 500,000 and 700,000 tons of various agricultural products cross the Polish border every month, including grain, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, meat and other products, Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said over the weekend.
Alan Charlish reports; Editing by Sharon Singleton
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