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Hungarian farmers protest against the lifting of bans on the import of Ukrainian grain

Photo: Attila Balazs / EPA

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have imposed import bans on Ukrainian agricultural products. The government in Kiev now wants to take legal action against this. Ukrainian Trade Representative Taras Kachka said this in an interview with Politico. The government in Kiev had already announced that it would be able to seek international arbitration because of the restrictions. Grain exports are Ukraine's main source of income.

"It is important to prove that these measures are legally wrong. That's why we will start a court case tomorrow," Kachka said, adding that Kiev is preparing retaliatory measures against Polish fruit and vegetable exports.

The three countries' import bans are designed to protect their farmers from a surge in exports from Ukraine after Russia blocked Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. Poland's ruling party is particularly keen to curb this movement of goods, as its chances in the October 15 elections are closely linked to supporting farmers who are up in arms over rising Ukrainian agricultural exports.

»Expression of total distrust of the European Commission«

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia announced their own restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports last Friday after the European Commission decided not to extend its ban on imports from Ukraine's five EU neighbours.

The EU let its ban expire after Ukraine said it would take measures to tighten controls on exports to neighboring countries. When asked about a possible agreement, Kachka told Politico that Kiev was ready to "take responsibility for ensuring that exports from Ukraine do not trigger a tsunami in neighboring countries."

The embargo imposed by the EU in May allowed Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds. The transport of these products to other countries was and is allowed.

Özdemir is sceptical about import bans

While Slovakia has simply extended the previous EU ban on four types of grain, Poland imposed additional bans on Ukrainian flour and animal feed over the weekend. Hungary, Kachka said, goes even further and bans another 25 products that have not yet been discussed, including meat. "These arbitrary bans are ridiculous," Kachka said. "I think that Hungary is making a political statement here that it wants to block trade with Ukraine and also completely disregard Brussels."

Kachka said Poland, Hungary and Slovakia's open disregard for Brussels was not just an internal EU issue. It raises the question of whether international trading partners can trust that Brussels speaks for the EU.

Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) is skeptical whether the import bans are legal. He sees no reason for such measures, he said before a meeting with his EU colleagues in Brussels. "I also don't see how this can be reconciled with EU law." According to his information, the market is receiving Ukrainian grain well.