WARSAW/BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Poland and Hungary have decided to ban imports of grain and other food products from neighboring Ukraine to protect the local agricultural sector, the two governments said on Saturday after a spate of bids drove prices in the entire region.
Ukraine expressed regret over Poland’s decision, saying that “solving various issues through unilateral drastic measures will not accelerate a positive resolution of the situation.”
After Russia’s invasion blocked some Black Sea ports, large quantities of Ukrainian grain, which is cheaper than that produced in the European Union, remained in the Central European states due to logistical bottlenecks, depressing prices and sales for local farmers.
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In a letter to the European Commission last month, the prime ministers of five Eastern European countries said the magnitude of the surge in products such as grains, oilseeds, eggs, poultry and sugar had been “unprecedented” and that tariffs on Ukrainian farm imports should possibly be in be considered.
The effects of oversupply have created a political problem for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in an election year as the economy spirals into stagflation.
“Today the government passed a decree banning the entry and import of grain into Poland, but also dozens of other types of food (from Ukraine),” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said at a party congress.
The list of those commodities, which will range “from grains to honey products, very, very many things,” will be included in the government regulation, he added.
Ukraine’s Agricultural Policy and Food Ministry said the Polish ban conflicted with existing bilateral export deals and called for talks to resolve the issue.
“We understand that Polish farmers are in a difficult situation, but we emphasize that Ukrainian farmers are currently in the most difficult situation,” the statement said.
Later on Saturday, the government of nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed the ban, saying the status quo would severely harm local farmers.
Hungary gave no details on when its import ban on grain and other foodstuffs would take effect, but said it would expire at the end of June.
Poland’s Kaczynski said: “We are and will remain friends and allies of Ukraine. We will support them and we support them. … But it is the duty of every state, every authority, at least the good authority, to protect the interests of its citizens.”
Kaczynski said Poland is ready to start talks with Ukraine to resolve the grain issue.
The Hungarian government said it hopes for changes in regulation at the EU level, including a reconsideration of eliminating import duties on Ukrainian products.
(Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz, David Ljunggren, Nick Starkov and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Potter and Jan Harvey)
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