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Germany Leads EU Condemnation of Ukraine Trade Curbs

Berlin accuses Poland, Hungary and Slovakia of ‘part-time solidarity’ with Kyiv over grain import bans

Germany has led condemnation of Poland, Hungary and Slovakia’s unilateral curbs on grain imports from Ukraine, accusing the countries of cherry-picking EU policies and putting their own interests over Ukraine. The remarks by Cem Özdemir, the German food and agriculture minister, underscored the wider ramifications of the Ukrainian grain dispute, which has posed the biggest challenge in decades to Brussels’ authority over EU trade.

His objections were echoed by Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner, who called on the three countries to rescind bans that go against the bloc’s trade policy. “We should remain united in our messages,” he told the Financial Times. “These matters are much more than just grain transit.” The European Commission lifted a ban on imports of four Ukrainian grains, including wheat and maize, on Friday on the condition that Kyiv agreed to prevent surges of grain into neighbouring EU countries. In the hours that followed Poland, Slovakia and Hungary applied their own curbs, flouting EU rules in order to protect farmers from an alleged glut of Ukrainian products. Poland and Slovakia are both holding elections within weeks. Özdemir said the commission had made the “right decision” to lift the ban and accused the eastern European countries of “part-time solidarity” with Ukraine. “When it suits you, you are in solidarity and when it doesn’t suit you, you are not,” he added.

France and Spain also criticised the move as in breach of core EU rules, which has granted the commission oversight of common trade policy since the 1970s. Marc Fesneau, the French agricultural minister, said the unilateral measures “call into question the single market and the common market very deeply”. Luis Planas, Spain’s agriculture minister, suggested the measures were unlawful but said it was “for the commission to judge”. Ukraine has said it will take Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the World Trade Organization and could retaliate with its own trade curbs against products from the three countries. The unilateral bans put the commission in an awkward position as it is responsible for acting as the bloc’s trade negotiator. If Ukraine pursues its WTO action, Brussels could face having to defend the three countries against Kyiv.

The commission has so far declined to elaborate on whether it will take formal legal action against the three renegade countries, insisting it was attempting to find a compromise. Poland led a group that first introduced the import bans earlier this year, which the commission later adopted as an EU-wide measure to deal with a temporary surge in supply. An EU diplomat said the EU’s 24 other member states would keep “a very close eye” on the commission’s response so it does not set a precedent that would “further undermine the treaties and the internal market”.

A commission spokesperson said that Brussels was “analysing the measures” being adopted and was focused “on making the system work”. Brussels lifted tariffs on imports of Ukrainian grain shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion as a way to boost Ukraine’s economy. It has also poured millions of euros into improving infrastructure along rail and river corridors to try and get grain to ports in other EU countries after Moscow pulled out of a scheme to allow exports via the Black Sea. Hungary on Friday said it would continue to curb Ukrainian grain imports and added dozens of food groups including frozen and fresh beef, pork, lamb, goat, honey and wine. “If cheap Ukrainian imports flood the markets of neighbouring EU member states . . . we can’t watch this idly,” Hungarian farm minister István Nagy said on Facebook on Saturday.

Poland has also added certain seeds and Ukrainian flour to the four grains embargoed by the original EU ban. Ahead of a crucial October 15 national election in Poland, politicians from the ruling right-wing PiS party said that Warsaw would resist EU pressure to lift the curbs and accused Ukraine of meddling unduly in EU affairs. Beata Szydło, a former prime minister of Poland, on Monday called Ukraine’s trade envoy Taras Kachka “simply impertinent” for lecturing Poland about what EU states are allowed to do.

Source : FT

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