Some International News
Ukraine files WTO lawsuit against Poland, Slovakia, Hungary over agri import ban
By Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com
Ukraine has filed lawsuits at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against Poland, Slovakia and Hungary following their decision to unilaterally impose a ban on Ukrainian agricultural goods.
“It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods,” Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister and economy minister, Yuliya Svyridenko, said in a statement announcing the decision on Monday (18 September).
The decision follows Poland, Slovakia and Hungary’s decision to unilaterally impose restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports on Friday (15 September) after the European Commission decided not to extend its temporary ban on imports into Ukraine’s five EU neighbours.
The EU ban – which covered wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds – was originally put in place to appease frontline countries facing an influx of Ukrainian agricultural products. The influx, which put local farmers under pressure by driving prices down, led to the countries unilaterally imposing their own trade restrictions back in April.
For Ukraine, Friday’s action by the three EU countries is a “violation of international obligations”, according to the statement, which called the unilateral actions of EU member states in the field of trade “unacceptable”.
“All member states of the bloc should coordinate and agree on trade policy, as it belongs to the exclusive competence of the EU,” the statement reads.
“That is why we file lawsuits against them in the WTO,” Svyridenko said, adding that, at the same time, Ukraine “hope[s] that these states will lift their restrictions and we will not have to clarify the relationship in the courts for a long time”.
According to the Svyridenko, the ban has left its mark on Ukraine’s agricultural sector.
“Domestic exporters have already suffered and continue to suffer significant losses due to downtime, additional costs and the impossibility of fulfilling foreign economic agreements,” the statement reads.
“We need solidarity with them and protection of farmers’ interests,” it stresses, adding that the steps Ukraine has taken and the pressure of the European Commission and other member states will “help restore normal trade between Ukraine and neighbouring countries, as well as show solidarity between us”.
Collapse of coordination platform?
The news comes as the Polish Press Agency (PAP) reports that Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have pulled out of the joint coordination platform, a gathering of EU frontline countries together with representatives from the Commission and Ukraine who have been regularly discussing the issue of the ban over the past few months.
While he did not confirm the rumours, speaking to journalists at the meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday (18 September), Poland’s agriculture minister Robert Telus suggested that it might be “dangerous” to continue participation with the platform amid concerns of lawsuits.
“If we are on this platform and if the Ukrainian side says that it wants to cite us to the WTO, then any statement we make on this platform can be used against [us],” he said, adding that, until Ukraine “backs down” on its threat to bring the case to the WTO, it is “dangerous for us to continue to participate there”.
Editor's Note: The way we understand this is since Russia is severely curtailing Ukraine's ability to export agricultural commodities, Ukraine is left to transport "locally" selling agricultural goods for less to their neighboring country's farmers can. Ag commodities are just about the only thing Ukraine has left to barter for the cash necessary to conduct their war against Russia. Ukraine's neighbors are sympathetic towards the Russian invasion but not altogether happy about under-priced commodities making it across their borders.
Then there's the Bulgarians - to the rescue
(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg)
The problem with the import of Ukrainian grain into Bulgaria was created by Russian propaganda, Transport Minister Todor Gvozdeykov said on Monday after Bulgarian grain producers – who have been demanding a ban on the import of agricultural products from Ukraine – blocked off key roads in the country.
He reiterated that there is a decision of the EU Commission and the Bulgarian parliament to allow Ukrainian imports.
“When imports were allowed in 2022, Bulgarian grain producers made a profit of more than €1.25 billion. In 2021, the profit is smaller, but this protest now has a political purpose. They are trying to destabilise the clear (pro-EU geopolitical) direction of Bulgaria,” Gvozdeikov told bTV.
“Bulgaria has nothing to lose. We provide a corridor of solidarity, a port through which grain from Ukraine can be exported. And Bulgaria will benefit from this,” the minister added.
A strong disinformation campaign was launched on social networks, directed against Ukrainian agricultural production in Bulgaria. The most popular fake news was that Ukrainian food was contaminated with heavy metals and even uranium. The Bulgarian authorities have carried out hundreds of inspections of Ukrainian grain and food but have not found any such issue.
Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov announced on Sunday evening that there is no real problem with Ukrainian agricultural imports, as Bulgaria has the right to determine what quantities it wants to accept.
The grain producers’ protest was triggered by the falling prices of sunflower seeds on world markets, while they insist that local processing plants buy their produce at prices 15-20% higher than the market value. However, this will lead to higher prices for the oil produced, which will effectively become unsellable.
The disinformation campaign was continued on Sunday by the National Union of Bakers and Confectioners chairwoman, Mariana Kukusheva. She explained to Nova TV that Ukrainian wheat can only be used for feed because it contains chemical compounds of “heavy metals”.
This caused the reaction of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency, which announced that there are no heavy metals in Ukrainian wheat.
The Food Agency announced that there is increased control and a sample was taken from every shipment from Ukraine. To date, 575 samples of Ukrainian products have been taken and not a single deviation from safety standards has been found.
Editor's Note: Romania has also concluded a favorable bilateral trade agreement with Ukraine allowing agricultural imports.
Many politicians vying for seats in the Slovak parliament have shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for greening the EU’s agricultural policy on GMOs, pesticides and unproductive land as the 30 September election looms.
(Barbara Zmušková | Euractiv.sk)
Of the nine major parties in the mix, only three – Progressive Slovakia (PS), KDH and OĽANO – appear to embrace the concept of a more environmentally friendly transformation of agriculture. While environmental concerns within the sector are not disputed, many of these parties remain skeptical about the European approach to addressing them.
But with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the target of making EU agriculture has become more contentious, with member states and parts of the European Parliament now harboring heightened concerns regarding food security and the welfare of farmers.
“We reject various ill-considered (European) ‘green plans’ that do not meet the basic technical criteria of technical feasibility, economic sustainability or ecological efficiency,” the far-right Republic Party writes in its election programe.
As for Smer, which is currently leading in the polls, said it will only support greening that does not “drastically endanger” and reduce the competitiveness of the European and Slovak economies.
Regarding the European Commission’s proposal to relax restrictions on certain genomic techniques used in plant genetic engineering to improve traits such as resistance to insects and drought, for example, all political parties consulted expressed their opposition.
Opinion was further divided on the Commission’s target to reduce the use of pesticides. While most parties disagree with the target of halving the use of chemical pesticides in pest control by 2030, PS and OĽANO do not.
As for the EU’s Nature Restoration Law, which proposes that a tenth of agricultural land should be kept in an unproductive state and which MEPs approved in a close vote this summer, all parties oppose it. Only the PS has come out in favour of setting aside more unproductive land for this purpose.
Editor's Note: This is interesting because it represents yet another example of people dabbling in agriculture who have no understanding of the discipline. Cutting any input by one-half by a certain date represents arbitrary decision making on a grand scale. Never mind the consequences. Are there consequences? Besides saving Mother Earth obviously? And by the way, do it without resources that infer genetic resistance to crop pests - no GMO and no gene editing. At least there seems to be real opposition to this nonsense.
Don't think for a moment this is happening in Slovakia and couldn't happen here. That would be an error. Other than a select few state legislatures our government is generally more insidious than simply mandating these kind of arbitrary decisions. (So far it's mostly in the form of banning fossil fueled vehicles beyond an arbitrary date.)
The USDA just announced a $12.5M pot available for grants towards halving fertilizer inputs and pesticides in agricultural production. So far it's an incentive and not a directive but most experienced policy experts believe these kinds of incentives are the tip of the regulatory iceberg. The grant applications, by the way, don't mention anything specific about maintaining high levels of production; just halving the politically unpopular inputs.