Grains pit Ukraine against its neighbors

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Solidarity with Ukraine has a limit. This is how farmers in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and, recently, Croatia, see it, who must compete with Ukrainian cereal that is cheaper than their own crops. “The stores sell low-quality products that are cheaper than ours,” he complained to Associated Press one of them, Vassil Dzhorgov, in the town of Radomir, Bulgaria, during a demonstration earlier this week. “We have losses so we will throw in the towel,” he added. In his words lies the root of the dispute that could make Warsaw stop sending weapons to Kyiv.

A decision from Brussels

In the weeks following the Russian invasion, Brussels wanted to help Ukraine, a major global grain producer and exporter, by creating solidarity corridors through neighboring countries and members of the European Union through which Kyiv could continue sending grain to the Middle East and Africa. But a shortage of trains and trucks slowed shipments to non-EU markets, and much of the production ended up being sold in Eastern Europe. For those countries it was an unexpected avalanche of cereals, but also honey, fruits, vegetables, milk and meat.

Low quality products are sold in stores that are cheaper than ours.

Vassil DzhorgovBulgarian farmer

Brussels' measures also included the suspension of tariffs and the end of the requirement for health and veterinary certificates from Ukrainian producers. The result is that these products entered the markets of neighboring countries at very low prices.

The Eastern countries stand up

The collapse in the markets of those countries sparked weeks of protests, until Poland and other allies vetoed the entry of Ukrainian imports in April 2023 to protect their farmers. It was necessary to “open the eyes of the EU,” said Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus at the time. Brussels listened and prohibited the entry of some products, although their transit through these countries was still allowed. It also mobilized 56 million euros from the community agricultural reserve for Bulgarian, Polish and Romanian farmers. However, the peasants of Bulgaria, for example, complained the other day of not having seen a single euro of European measures.

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How long did the veto last?

The import veto ended on September 15 and Brussels refused to extend it, considering that the conditions for affecting the internal markets of those countries were no longer met. Ukraine committed to limiting some exports. But Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia, which later joined the rejection group, decided to expand it unilaterally. This has led Ukraine to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization. The consequence has been the scuffle between the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, on the stage of the United Nations Assembly. The first has accused some countries (without naming names) of playing in favor of Russia while the other accuses Kyiv of acting like a person who, while drowning, clings to everything without taking into account the damage it causes to the the rest.

Poland accuses Ukraine of clinging to everything while drowning without caring about the damage

Because right now?

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party is relying on farmers' votes to win a difficult general election on October 15. Slovakia is also in the final stretch of a parliamentary election campaign, where the favorite is Robert Fico, a populist who has pledged to reduce military and political support for Ukraine. As for Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's closeness to Vladimir Putin is widely known.

And export through the Black Sea?

To add more pressure to the dispute, Russia ended in July the agreement with Ukraine for the transport of grain from this country through the Black Sea, created with the mediation of Turkey and the UN. The goal was to get the grain to parts of the world struggling with hunger. That is why now road, rail and river routes, such as the Danube, through Europe are even more important for distributing Ukrainian grain.

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Volodymyr Zelensky and Joe Biden, in the Oval Office of the White House

Russia, the big beneficiary?

Moscow is rubbing its hands as it watches a breach forge in the unity that the community bloc has maintained until now in relation to the Ukraine conflict. At the moment, while Kyiv sees its wheat exports decline, Russia, which is already the world's leading exporter, expects to contribute more than a fifth of wheat to world trade for the 2023-24 harvest season. In fact, the increase in Russian production has caused wheat prices to fall, which since July are almost at the lowest levels in three years. “We have seen a substantial drop in wheat prices basically as a result of Russia,” said Rabobank analyst Michael Magdovitz. Financial Times .

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