The question of importing grain from Ukraine was discussed by several delegations at an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers and will be revisited at a European Commission (EC) meeting on September 6, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said.
“My position is clear that we need to support Ukraine by, first of all, supporting transit of grain from Ukraine to the seaports, and the Ukrainian export to the third countries. This is the most important,” Wojciechowski told a press conference after the European Council’s informal meeting on agriculture in Cordoba, Spain, on Tuesday.
“The question of the prolongation of the import ban [on Ukrainian grain supplies to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovenia] is discussed in the [European] Commission. My position is also clear that if the ban for the five frontline member states is not prolonged, we can expect the next huger crisis in the frontline member states, because all these frontline member-states are also big grain exporters in the European Union, and [we can see] the pressure on their markets,” Wojciechowski said.
The issue of a potential market shock in those countries was raised on the margins of the discussions in Cordoba, he said.
At present, Ukrainian grain is transported mainly via Solidarity Lanes, he said.
“We need take this aspect and distribute solidarity lanes to use more seaports than now. This is the challenge. There is a question of infrastructure, [but] the main question is about economic aspects. The transit is too expensive for Ukrainian companies to be competitive on the market. I proposed to support Ukraine financially for compensation of transit costs. There is discussion, and I present this kind of argumentation,” Wojciechowski said.
Asked if Ukraine might complain about the EC to the World Trade Organization over Brussels violating trade rules, Wojciechowski said that the five border countries, like other EU members, were in solidarity with Ukraine and involved in helping Kyiv, including financially, and that the EU has provided its market for Ukrainian agricultural products.
In 2022, the total EU imports from Ukraine stood at EUR 28 billion, almost half of which (EUR 13 billion) accounted for agricultural products, the commissioner said. Across the 27 members, there was an import increase of EUR 7 billion, of which EUR 5 billion was by those five “frontline” states, he said.
As for the banned import of certain products, “this is not the discrimination, this is a temporary ban,” the commissioner said. “This is only a measure to avoid a negative situation for both sides, because… direct import to the frontline member states is not good for the farmers in these countries, but also for Ukraine, because it’s a speculative trade,” Wojciechowski said.
Before the events in Ukraine, there were no problems with trade in Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed, sunflower seeds under the EU-Ukraine association agreement because these products were shipped almost entirely by sea to Asia and Africa, bypassing those border states, he said. Now, with the sea routes blocked, Ukrainian grain products sell much cheaper than the EU’s. As a result, resellers profiteering on this situation are helping neither Ukraine, nor the EU countries, the official said.
“I think that if there will be a complaint – I hope that not – but it will be taken into account. My proposal is for good for Ukraine, because it is to support transit… I think that we will find a good solution, which will be acceptable for all partners, including Ukraine,” Wojciechowski said.