Ukraine sues EU neighbours over food imports ban
Ukraine has initiated legal actions at the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary due to their imposition of food import bans from Kyiv. Ukraine argues that these restrictions represent a breach of international commitments by its European Union (EU) neighbors.
The reasoning provided by these countries for the bans is the protection of their domestic farmers from the influx of inexpensive imports.
The disruption caused by Russia’s extensive invasion of Ukraine last year practically shut down the primary Black Sea shipping routes, compelling Ukraine to establish alternative overland transport routes. This, in turn, resulted in significant quantities of grain being redirected to central Europe.
Farmers in these EU member states subsequently organized protest demonstrations, contending that Ukrainian grain shipments were undercutting their markets and causing distortions.
As a response to this pressure, the 27-nation EU bloc reached an agreement earlier this year to impose trade restrictions on Ukrainian imports into Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania until September 15.
On the deadline day, the European Commission, which serves as the EU’s executive body, chose not to extend the ban. However, the governments in Budapest, Warsaw, and Bratislava disregarded the Commission’s decision and declared their own set of restrictions.
In a statement on Monday, Ukraine’s Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said that “it is crucially important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban imports of Ukrainian goods.
“That is why we are filing lawsuits against them [Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary] to the WTO.”
Ms. Svyrydenko added that Ukrainian exporters had “already suffered and are continuing to suffer significant losses” because of the unilateral bans.
Poland said it would keep its ban regardless.
“We maintain our position, we think it is correct, it results from an economic analysis and powers derived from EU and international law,” said government spokesman Piotr Mueller.
“A complaint before the WTO doesn’t impress us.”
The European Commission has repeatedly stated that it is not up to individual EU members to make trade policy for the bloc.
Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are still allowing Ukrainian grain to transit their countries to other markets.
Poland and Slovakia are key Ukraine’s allies in its fight against the Russian invasion – but the grain imports row has caused friction.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of crops such as sunflower oil, wheat, barley, and maize.
Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 and blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports trapped some 20 million tonnes of grain meant for export.
This caused world food prices to soar and threatened to create shortages in the Middle East and Africa.
A deal was struck in July of that year between Russia and Ukraine to allow cargo ships to sail along a corridor in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports.
Almost 33 million tonnes of grain were shipped from Ukraine under the deal, and world food prices declined by roughly 20% as a result, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
However, Russia pulled out of the deal in July and world grain prices have risen again.