Kyiv: Kyiv aims to re-open food and grain transit via Poland as “a first step” to ending import bans at talks that began in Warsaw on Monday as countries halted grain from Ukraine to protect their local agriculture markets.
The talks were likely to continue into Tuesday, a source close to the negotiations said in the afternoon.
Poland and Hungary announced bans on some imports from Ukraine on Saturday. Slovakia said on Monday it would do the same and other countries in central and eastern Europe said they were also considering action.
Some Black Sea ports were blocked after Russia’s attack of Ukraine began in February last year and logistical bottlenecks trapped large quantities of Ukrainian grain - cheaper than that produced in the European Union - in Central European countries.
Local farmers say this has lowered prices and reduced their sales. Governments, under pressure to act, have asked the European Union for a response.
In Poland, the issue has created a problem in an election year for ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party that relies on rural areas for high level of support.
The export and transit bans also come as a deal to allow the export millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea despite the Ukraine war nears its May 18 expiry and Russian demands have left the prospect of an extension uncertain.
The combined impact of the bans and failure to agree an extension would strand millions of tonnes of grain inside Ukraine, a major agricultural producer that makes a substantial part of its gross domestic product from food sales.
“The first step, in our opinion, should be the opening of transit, because it is quite important and it is the thing that should be done unconditionally and after that we will talk about other things,” Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said before talks in Warsaw.
About 10% of the food goods Ukraine exports crosses the Polish border, Solsky said in comments published on the Telegram messaging app by the Ukraine Agriculture Ministry. Deliveries to Hungary accounted for around 6% of Ukraine’s farm exports.
To prevent any grain entering the Polish market, Warsaw’s ban also covered transit through the country, which imported 2.45 million tonnes of grain, or three quarters of total imports, from Ukraine in 2022, Polish Agriculture Ministry data showed.
“The ultimate goal is not that the import ban will be in force indefinitely, but to ensure that grain from Ukraine, which is to be exported, goes (where it is headed),” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told radio station RMF.
The possible barriers to Ukrainian grain trade mounted on Monday after Slovakia approved halting imports indefinitely following Poland’s move, although it maintained transit.
Bulgaria’s agriculture minister also said the country could limit imports, the BTA news agency said.
Istvan Nagy, Hungary’s farm minister, said a solution was needed beyond the national level, calling eventual EU measures inevitable. The Czech Republic also urged an EU-wide solution while saying it would not introduce a ban itself for now.
The prime ministers of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia raised the issue in a letter to the European Commission last month. They said tariffs on Ukrainian imports should be considered, and states have also pushed for an EU purchase mechanism to buy up cheap grain.
A senior EU official said EU envoys would discuss Poland and Hungary’s bans on Wednesday - after the bloc’s executive said on Sunday that unilateral action was unacceptable.
The official said low global prices and demand meant grain was staying in the bloc rather than being sold on.
Ukraine usually exports its agricultural goods, especially grain, via its Black Sea ports that were unblocked last July in line with an agreement between Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations when the greatest pressure on governments was to lower prices to tackle inflation and offset possible food shortages.
Moscow said last week that accord may not be extended unless the West removes obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertiliser. On Monday, Ukraine said the Black Sea grain deal was in danger of a “shutdown” after Russia blocked inspections of participating ships in Turkish waters.