© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the cereal terminal with grain silo in the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Anca Cernat/File Photo
By Julia Payne and Alan Charlish
BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland, Slovakia and Hungary will impose their own restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports, the governments said on Friday, after the European Commission decided not to extend a ban affecting Ukraine’s five EU neighbours.
Restrictions imposed by the European Union in May allowed Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, while permitting transit of such cargoes for export elsewhere.
“We will extend this ban despite their disagreement, despite the European Commission’s disagreement,” Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki told a rally in the northeastern town of Elk. “We will do it because it is in the interest of the Polish farmer.”
Polish development minister Waldemar Buda said in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that he had signed the Polish ban regulation, which would run for an indefinite period of time from midnight.
Hungary imposed a national import ban on 24 Ukrainian agricultural products, including grains, vegetables, several meat products and honey, according to a government decree published on Friday.
Slovakia’s agriculture minister followed suit announcing its own grain ban. All three bans only apply to domestic imports and do not affect transit to onward markets.
EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said on Friday countries should refrain from unilateral measures against imports of Ukrainian grain. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said it would respond in a “civilised fashion” if EU members break the rules.
The EU created alternative land routes, so-called Solidarity Lanes, for Ukraine to use to export its grains and oilseeds after Russia, which invaded in 2022, backed out of a U.N.-brokered Black Sea (NYSE:) grain deal in July that allowed safe passage for the cargo ships.
The EU Commission said existing measures would expire as originally planned on Friday after Ukraine agreed to introduce any legal measures (including, for example, an export licensing system) within 30 days to avoid grain surges.
“It has concluded that thanks to the work of the Coordination Platform and to the temporary measures introduced on 2 May 2023, the market distortions in the 5 Member States bordering Ukraine have disappeared,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The EU said it will refrain from imposing any restrictions as long as the effective measures by Ukraine are in place and fully working.
Farmers in the five countries neighbouring Ukraine have repeatedly complained about a product glut hitting their domestic prices and pushing them towards bankruptcy.
The countries, except Bulgaria, had been pushing for an extension of the ban passed its Sept. 15 expiry.
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia previously said they may extend the restrictions unilaterally while Bulgaria on Thursday voted to scrap the curbs.
Romania’s government, which unlike its peers did not unilaterally enforce a ban before May, said on Friday it “regretted that a European solution to extend the ban could not be found.”
It added it was waiting for Ukraine to present its action plan of measures to prevent an import surge by Sept. 18 before deciding how to protect Romanian farmers.
Romania sees over 60% of the alternate flows pass through its territory mainly via the Danube river and its farmers have threatened protests if the ban is not extended.
For the last year, Ukraine had been moving 60% of its exports through the Solidarity Lanes and 40% via the Black Sea thanks to the deal.
In August, about 4 million tonnes of Ukraine grains passed through the Solidarity Lanes of which close to 2.7 million tonnes were through the Danube. The Commission wants to increase exports through Romania further but the plan has been complicated by Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure along the Danube and near the Romanian border.