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EU lets Ukrainian grain ban expire even as some member countries impose their own

FILE - A tractor collects straw on a field in a private farm in Zhurivka, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. The European Union faces a Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, deadline to decide whether to extend a ban on Ukrainian food from five nearby countries that have complained the influx has hurt their farmers. But they still allow grain and other products to head to parts of the world in need. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

LONDON (AP) — The European Union on Friday decided not to renew a ban on Ukrainian food heading to nearby countries that have complained that an influx of agricultural products from the war-torn nation has hurt their farmers.

The move sets up a clash with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, which have said that food coming from Ukraine has become stuck within their borders, creating a glut that has driven down prices for local farmers and hurt their livelihoods.

The issue threatens European unity on supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, reacted by saying that his government will extend its own the ban on Ukrainian grain, regardless of any lack of consent from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Officials said the measure would be published Friday.

“We will do that because it is in the interest of Polish farmers,” Morawiecki said during a campaign rally ahead of Oct. 15 parliamentary elections in which the governing Law and Justice party is trying to attract farmers’ votes.

Hungary announted that it will not only extend its ban on grain imports from Ukraine but unilaterely restrict the import of 24 other Ukrainian agricultural products as of midnight Friday, among them rapeseed and sunflower seeds, flour, vegetable oil, honey, certain meats and eggs.

“We are defending the interests of farmers, so now that Brussels has decided to no longer maintain the ban on imports of Ukrainian agricultural products, our country will do so under national competence and even extend it to a wider range of products,” said Hungarian Minister of Agriculture Istvan Nagy.

Slovakian Prime Minister Ludovit Odor said in a statement that his government decided to extend the ban on grain imports from Ukraine till the end of the year.

“We have to prevent the Slovak market from the excessive pressure and be fair to local farmers,” Odor said.

The European Commission said that “the market distortions” created by Ukrainian grain have disappeared. Ukraine has agreed to put measures in place starting Saturday to control the export of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds to neighboring EU countries.

It also will introduce proposals — for example, an export licensing system — within 30 days to avoid grain surges, the EU said.

In a turnaround, Bulgaria lawmakers on Thursday approved resuming imports of Ukrainian food products. Finance Minister Asen Vassilev says the ban has deprived the government of tax revenue and led to higher food prices.

Ukraine praised Bulgaria’s decision and had pressed for an end to the ban, saying any further restrictions would have “a clear destabilizing effect on the global food market,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Grain and other Ukrainian food had been allowed to pass through the five European countries on the way to parts of the world in need.

In July, Russia pulled out of a U.N.-brokered deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain safely through the Black Sea. Routes through neighboring countries have become the primary way for Ukraine — a major global supplier of wheat, barley, corn and vegetable oil — to export its commodities to parts of the world struggling with hunger.

Recent attacks on Ukraine’s Danube River ports have raised concerns about a route that has carried millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to Romania’s Black Sea ports every month.

That has meant road and rail routes through Europe have grown increasingly important. While facing blowback from neighbors, they aren’t ideal for agriculture-dependent Ukraine either, whose growers face higher transportation costs and lower capacity.

After the countries passed unilateral bans earlier this year, the EU reached a deal allowing them to prohibit Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds from entering their markets but still pass through their borders for export elsewhere.

The EU also provided an additional 100 million euros ($113 million) in special aid on top of an initial support package of 56.3 million euros ($60.2 million) to help farmers in the affected countries.

The Associated Press

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