EU states disagree over extension of temporary ban on Ukraine imports

13 Sep 2023 | Anna Platonova

Five European member states that instigated a temporary measure to block imports of agricultural products back in May appear to disagree on whether the move should be extended beyond the current deadline of September 15.

Bulgaria is now insisting the measure should be lifted as the local market faces a shortage of sunflower supply to crushers, while Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are still taking a strong position on extending the temporary ban, possibly until the end of the year, and Romania is hesitating in making a decision, local media and market sources have said.

On Monday, September 11, three Bulgarian parties of the ruling coalition – GERP, PP, and DPS – radically changed their decision regarding the measure to prevent imports and submitted to parliament a draft decision to lift it, which, if passed would oblige the government to start allowing imports of Ukrainian agricultural products again.

In May, the European Commission agreed to allow a temporary restriction on imports of wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower into Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia until September 15, while maintaining transit through these countries, after farmers protested the increase in imports since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 had put pressure on their local markets.

Whether Bulgaria’s decision will apply all four commodities or just sunflower seeds, which has caused the most controversy, remains to be seen.

However, market participants assume that if the ban is lifted it will apply to all goods, as sunflower imports are of fundamental importance for Bulgaria, and grain imports are not so big an issue for farmers.

“[We are] still waiting to see it officially but I think it will be for all grains and sunflower seeds,” a broker based in Bulgaria told Agricensus.

“I think that [it will be for] all products but still need to clarify it,” another market source said.

“Usually, we import very little corn or wheat, so I suggest this is not an obstacle for local farmers/traders.”

Poland's position remains firm and unequivocal, meanwhile, that the measures should be extended, as evidenced by statements from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki this week.

“Poland will not open its borders to Ukrainian grain, regardless of the decision of the European Commission,” Morawiecki wrote on his Twitter page.

“Poland will not allow us to be flooded with Ukrainian grain. No matter what the decision of Brussels officials, we will not open our borders.”

According to Bulgarian and Romanian sources, Romanian farmers and the government are also in active discussions, with the possibility of the ban being lifted.

“Farmers are against lifting the ban; the government offers support for Ukraine flows, transit of 4 million my per month,” said Cezar Gheorghe, founder of AGRI Column.

“Romania will respect in full the European Commission decision, as we did in the past when other countries took unilateral decisions to stop transit and imports from Ukraine,” he added.

Meanwhile, since rumors the ban might be lifted emerged, Bulgarian buyers have began to take an active interest in Ukrainian sunflower, prices for which have been falling.

To date, according to Agricensus monitoring data, prices have decreased by on average $15-20/mt compared with last week.

Sellers' levels fell to on average $400-405/mt CIF Ruse, Selistra against buyers’ ideas at $395/mt on the same basis, while a trade of Ukrainian sunflower at $382/mt DAP Bulgaria was heard with delivery in September.

According to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, Ukraine exported almost 1.9 million mt of sunflower in the 2022/23 season, of which 1.5 million mt went to EU countries, mostly in the first half of the season before the temporary import ban was introduced.

Deliveries of Ukrainian sunflower to Bulgaria in the 2022/23 season amounted to 493,027 mt, according to the ministry, which represents 33% of the total volume of Ukrainian sunflower exports to EU countries.

Ukrainian exports of rapeseed to EU countries in the 2022/23 season amounted to 3.4 million mt, of which 3 million mt went to EU countries, according to the ministry.