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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Brussels cries foul as Poland and Hungary ban Ukraine grain imports

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Vivek Shankar and Enjoli Liston

The European Union has criticized bans by Poland and Hungary on imports of Ukrainian grain and other foods over the weekend, saying the unilateral moves were “unacceptable.”

The bloc, of which Poland and Hungary are member states, lifted tariffs on Ukrainian grain last year to help transport it to the rest of the world amid Russia’s invasion, but the exports have led to a glut of produce in Europe. As a result, farmers in Poland, Hungary and other nations have seen their incomes plummet.

Hungary’s agriculture minister said on Saturday that “in the absence of meaningful EU measures,” his country would follow Poland in restricting Ukrainian grain imports until the end of June, according to Hungarian news reports. The announcement came after Poland reached a deal with Ukraine on Friday to strictly limit and, for a time, halt Ukrainian grain deliveries to Poland.

That deal was expected to affect Ukrainian grain, wheat, corn and some other produce, but on Saturday, Poland expanded it to include dozens of other types of food. Poland’s economic development and technology minister, Waldemar Buda, said in a tweet on Sunday that the measure would also prevent the transit of Ukrainian products through Poland.

A spokesperson for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, said in an email on Sunday that such a trade policy was a matter of “EU exclusive competence,” meaning that only the bloc could adopt legally binding decisions. “Unilateral actions are not acceptable,” the statement said.

The announcements from Hungary and Poland come as Russia has expressed doubts about extending the Black Sea grain deal, which the United Nations and Turkey brokered last year and was scheduled to expire in the next few weeks. The agreement, which allows wartime grain shipments to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, has been crucial for alleviating global food shortages and limiting price increases.

The Black Sea deal was renewed in March, but the United Nations did not say how long it would last. Russia, which at the time said the agreement was valid through May 18, has expressed dissatisfaction with the deal for months because of Western sanctions that have hindered its own food and fertilizer exports. The agreement would become even more vital if Ukraine could not ship grain and foodstuffs over land routes in Eastern Europe, through Poland and Hungary.

Poland’s new agriculture minister, Robert Telus, whose predecessor resigned this month, during a state visit to Poland by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, said at a party convention on Saturday that halting grain deliveries would act as a “shield” for Polish farmers.

Ukraine’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solskyi, said on Saturday that Ukraine understood that its agricultural exports represented “tough competition” for other countries, but added, “The Ukrainian farmer is in the most difficult situation.” Solskyi was expected to travel to Poland on Monday to continue talks on the issue.

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