BRUSSELS — Five EU countries have struck a deal with the European Commission on shifting millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain out of the region after almost two weeks of intensive negotiations, EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said Friday.

“I’m glad to announce that we have reached a political agreement concerning Ukrainian agrifood imports in the EU. We’ve agreed with the five neighboring EU member states and Ukraine on how we’ll tackle the situation,” Dombrovskis said.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria restricted imports of Ukrainian produce earlier this month following protests by farmers unable to sell their crops due to a supply glut.

As previously announced, the European Commission will put forward emergency safeguard measures for wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, Dombrovskis said, adding that investigations into other products could follow.

He did not provide more details on what the emergency measures entail, but EU diplomats say that the imports of those products into those five countries will be blocked unless for transit into other EU or third countries.

The EU will also support the countries with some €100 million.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the deal, arguing that it “preserves both Ukraine’s exports capacity so it continues feeding the world, and our farmers’ livelihoods.”

Poland earlier heralded the deal.

“We have just now finalized agreements with the European Union regarding the ban on the import of these agricultural products, which above all led to destabilization in the Polish market,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

While Romania had not imposed its own restrictions, it joined the other four countries in calling for the EU executive to widen its proposal for temporary “preventative measures”.

So much for solidarity

The five had argued that the so-called “solidarity lanes” — set up by the EU to help shift crops diverted from Ukraine’s traditional Black Sea export route by Russia’s invasion last year — had flooded their markets with farm produce.

But the import crackdown sparked outrage among other EU countries, who said that this both undermined the bloc’s single market and broke solidarity with Kyiv, which Europe is backing in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression.

The news was unlikely to be welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had warned that import restrictions violate a trade deal between the two partners earlier in the day.

“We discussed the ban on the import of Ukrainian agricultural products by several neighboring states,” he said following a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel. “I expressed deep concern about such decisions and emphasized that these steps are a gross violation of the Association Agreement and the founding treaties of the EU.”

In a similar vein, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna urged the bloc to suspend trade defense measures.

“The flow of Ukrainian agro-export is a matter of survival for the Ukrainian economy, heavily impacted by the full-scale Russian war of aggression,” Stefanishyna said. “So, our common priority should be an extension of the suspension of import duties, quotas, and trade defense measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union.” 

News of an agreement came hours after EU ambassadors backed the proposed extension of Ukraine’s tariff-free access to the bloc’s single market. 

The current scheme runs out in early June and, subject to formal approval, would be extended by another year. The decision had been postponed because of the ongoing negotiations on clearing the supply glut of Ukrainian grain.

Brussels had suspended all import duties on Ukrainian goods for one year to help Kyiv’s war-ravaged economy last June, lifting all import duties on top of tariff reductions that are already cemented in the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The remaining tariffs were removed from industrial products, fruits and vegetables and other agricultural products.

The tariff rules are still subject to formal approval by the European Parliament and EU countries at a later stage.


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