Ukraine has launched legal action against Poland, Hungary and Slovakia over their unilateral bans on grain exports, which it considers to be a “violation of their international obligations.”
“It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods. That is why we file lawsuits against them in the WTO,” said Yulia Svyrydenko, Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister, in a statement.
“At the same time, we hope that these states will lift their restrictions and we will not have to clarify the relationship in the courts for a long time. We need solidarity with them and protection of farmers’ interests.”
The lawsuit, filed on Monday evening before the World Trade Organization (WTO), comes three days after the European Commission struck a deal with Kyiv and lifted the temporary restrictions it had imposed on Ukrainian cereals.
The prohibitions were first enacted on 2 May and applied to five European Union member states located in Ukraine’s periphery: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The countries had said the unexpected surge in tariff-free, low-cost grain from Ukraine was depressing prices for local farmers and wreaking economic havoc.
Under the restrictions, four Ukrainian agricultural products – wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed – were allowed transit through the five Eastern counts but could not stay inside their markets for domestic consumption or storage.
Kyiv denounced the bans as “unacceptable” and contrary to the spirit of solidarity shown towards the country since Russia launched the full-scale war. Several member states, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, raised “serious concerns” about the temporary measures and their impact on the single market.
The European Commission promised to phase out the bans by 15 September, despite the Eastern coalition publicly threatening to go it alone and slap their own prohibitions.
Hours before the deadline expired, the Commission announced a surprising agreement under which the bans were lifted with immediate effect. In return, Kyiv committed to tightening control over its commerce and avoiding sudden spikes in agricultural products.
But the solution failed to satisfy Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, which swiftly announced their intentions to impose nationwide bans on a unilateral basis, the very uncoordinated scenario that Brussels wanted to avoid at all costs.
“We will extend this ban despite their disagreement, despite the European Commission’s disagreement,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a rally on Friday. “We will do it because it is in the interest of the Polish farmers.”
The new bans are dissimilar in scope and duration, and target different sets of foodstuffs. Hungary, for example, has blacklisted 24 Ukrainian products, including meat, eggs and honey, which were not covered under the previous bans.
The Slovakian prohibition runs until the end of the year while the Polish measure has been introduced for an “indefinite” period of time.
For its part, Romania has said it would wait for Kyiv to submit its action plan to the European Commission before making any moves. Bulgaria announced last week the restrictions were no longer necessary to protect its national economy.
A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment on Monday on the national bans and possible next steps, saying an internal analysis was underway.
“Trade policy is an exclusive competence (of the Commission) so any action has to be taken at the EU level,” the spokesperson said.
Member states, however, were more vocal in expressing their displeasure.
Luis Planas, the Spanish agriculture minister, criticised the unilateral restrictions as a “mistake” that contravened European solidarity and risked fuelling food insecurity.
“These measures are incompatible with EU law,” Planas said before heading to a ministerial meeting in Brussels. “We cannot lose the focus. The focus is Ukraine, the support for Ukraine to contain the illegal and unjustified aggression of Russia.”
Germany’s Cem Özdemir accused the three Eastern countries of practicing “part-time solidarity” and urged the bloc to “shy away” from bolstering Vladimir Putin’s narrative.
“We regret a number of unilateral measures taken by border countries, which are not the first time,” said his French counterpart, Marc Fesneau. “It seems to me that you can’t have solidarity without unity. And to have unity, you also need to express solidarity.”