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The European Union’s top farm official said Tuesday that the bloc was on the cusp of ending a damaging internal standoff over a destabilizing glut of Ukraine farm imports by granting five eastern member states the right to temporarily ban the most contentious produce.
Resolving the issue quickly would allow the EU to maintain a unified stance in the face of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said after daylong talks among the 27 farm ministers that the EU is close to allowing Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania a temporary import ban on five farm products that make up the overwhelming mass of exports from Ukraine that have flooded their markets during the war.
“I can see that everything shows that this decision will be approved by by the member states, by the (European) Council in the spirit of solidarity,” Wojciechowski said. ”We are very close to the final agreement,” he added without elaborating what issues were still left on the table.
After the 27-nation bloc lifted Ukrainian farm import restrictions last year to help the nation send its prized cereal production on to the world and overcome Russia’s blockage, several eastern nations were inundated with imports that flooded local markets.
“We fully understand that these five member states requested to introduce measures against this oversupply of products from Ukraine, because it creates many problems for the farmers in these front-line countries,” the commissioner said.
To protect their farmers, they unilaterally imposed bans on Ukraine imports for their national markets, a move that goes against the principle that the EU sets trade policy for all 27 nations, and gives an impression that the bloc is fighting internally instead of facing Russia jointly.
Under the European Commission’s plan, the bloc would basically accept the bans on the five main products — wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil — that account for 90% of imports, but turn down their request to also include honey, sugar, poultry and some other secondary products.
Before the meeting, the precarious situation of farmers in eastern member states could already count on some understanding among other member states.
“We need joint solidarity and our stand in the markets must be a common one,” French Farm Minister Marc Fesneau said. Others worried that the EU’s united stance through one year of the Russian invasion would start to collapse.
After last year’s Russian blockade kept shipments from leaving Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, the EU lifted duties on Ukrainian grain to facilitate its transport to Africa and the Middle East by other routes and offered to pay some compensation to farmers in transit countries, which they said was insufficient.
Overall, there was acceptance that the lifting of import tariffs had seriously skewed the local markets in nations close to Ukraine. In Poland, wheat imports went from 2,375 tons in 2021 to 500,008 tons last year. Maize went from 5,863 tons to more than 1.8 million over the same period.
Similar huge increases were also evident in Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote a letter to the leaders of the five nations with a set of proposals that she said “responds specifically to the concerns of front-line member states and stakeholders, including farmers, and will allow us to react even quicker in the future.”
The letter acknowledged the issues that farmers encountered after the EU lifted duties on Ukrainian grain to ease exports when Russia’s war in Ukraine choked off shipments through traditional routes.
The European Commission’s proposals also built on an initial support package of 56.3 million euros for the most affected farmers in the front-line countries with the possibility of a second package of 100 million euros.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine