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Hungary, Poland, Slovakia defy EU and extend bans on Ukrainian grain

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Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have announced their own bans on Ukrainian grain imports, despite the European Commission’s decision to end the embargo on Sept. 15. The three countries said they were acting in the interest of their domestic farmers, who have been suffering from low prices due to a glut of Ukrainian produce.

The EU imposed temporary restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports in May, after farmers in five EU countries bordering Ukraine – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria – protested that Ukrainian grain destined for foreign markets was actually remaining on domestic markets and undercutting their competitiveness. The restrictions allowed the transit of Ukrainian grain for export elsewhere, but banned its sale within the five countries.

The EU also created alternative land routes, called Solidarity Lanes, for Ukraine to use to export its grains and oilseeds after Russia, which invaded Ukraine in 2022, backed out of a U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal in July that allowed safe passage for the cargo ships.

The EU Commission said it decided not to extend the restrictions beyond Sept. 15, after Ukraine agreed to introduce legal measures within 30 days to avoid grain surges. The EU said it would refrain from imposing any restrictions as long as Ukraine’s measures are in place and fully working.

However, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia said they were not satisfied with the EU’s decision and would continue to protect their farmers from unfair competition. Hungary imposed a national import ban on 24 Ukrainian agricultural products, including grains, vegetables, several meat products and honey. Poland and Slovakia extended their bans on Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds indefinitely.

“We will extend this ban despite their disagreement, despite the European Commission’s disagreement,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a rally in the northeastern town of Elk on Friday. “We will do it because it is in the interest of the Polish farmer.”

Slovakia’s Agriculture Minister Jozef Prokes said his country’s ban was necessary to prevent “market distortions” and “serious damage” to Slovak farmers. He also called for a common EU policy on Ukrainian grain imports.

Hungary’s government decree said its ban was based on “the principle of reciprocity” and aimed to ensure “the protection of Hungarian agricultural producers and consumers”.

The EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis urged the three countries to refrain from unilateral measures against imports of Ukrainian grain. He said the EU would monitor the situation closely and take appropriate action if needed.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country would respond in a “civilized fashion” if EU members break the rules. He said Ukraine was ready to cooperate with the EU and implement effective measures to regulate its grain exports.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, with an expected harvest of about 75 million tonnes this year. The country relies heavily on its agricultural sector, which accounts for about 10% of its gross domestic product.

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