Stepping on toes

Ukraine seeks to re-open grain transit via Poland as ‘first step’

Kyiv plans to secure the re-opening of food and grain transit via Poland as “a first step” at talks in Warsaw on Monday.

Ukraine’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solsky said after Poland and Hungary announced bans on some imports from Ukraine.

Some Black Sea ports were blocked after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022 and large quantities of Ukrainian grain – which is cheaper than that produced in the European Union – ended up staying in Central European countries because of logistical bottlenecks.

This hit prices and sales for local farmers, putting pressure on governments that had turned to the European Union for action before Warsaw and Budapest took their own decisions over the weekend.

Poland’s ban on grains, in effect since Saturday evening, also applied to transit through the country. Officials have said it is meant to keep grain transport from entering the Polish market.

“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,” Solsky said.

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“In terms of figures, everything that crossed the Polish border (from Ukraine)… is about 10% of everything (of food goods) Ukraine exported,” he said in comments published on the Telegram messaging app by the Agriculture Ministry.

Deliveries to Hungary accounted for around 6% of Ukraine’s farm exports, he said, adding that Ukrainian food transit via Hungary and Slovakia was unaffected.

He also said there would be additional talks this week in Romania on Wednesday, and in Slovakia on Thursday.

Talks between Ukraine and Poland were due to start in Warsaw around 12:00 p.m. (1000 GMT), Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said on TVP Info.

Ukraine usually exports its agricultural goods, especially grain, via its Black Sea ports which were unblocked last July in line with an agreement between Ukraine, Turkey, Russia and the United Nations.

That accord is scheduled to expire on May 18 and Moscow said last week that it may not be extended unless the West removes obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertiliser.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told radio station RMF talks with Ukraine could at least relieve the tensions with farmers in central eastern Europe.

“We want to lead to a situation where not even the smallest grain transport, which is to be exported, (is) introduced to the Polish market,” he said.

“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).”

In a letter to the European Commission in March, the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia said there had been an unprecedented increase in shipments of products including grains, oilseeds, eggs, poultry and sugar.

They said tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports should be considered. States have pushed for a purchase mechanism to scoop up cheap grain.

Jablonski said the letter had yet to receive any response.