By Gerardo Fortuna and Natasha Foote
(EurActiv) — Poland is prepared to introduce its own unilateral ban on agricultural products imported from Ukraine if the EU decides against extending the protective measures already in place, the Polish agricultural minister told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
“On 15 April, we introduced a ban and, if need be, we will have to do that [again],” Robert Telus told EURACTIV on the sidelines of a meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Tuesday (25 July).
His comments came on the back of heated discussions over whether to extend the current temporary ban on select Ukrainian agricultural goods, put in place to appease frontline countries, who unilaterally imposed their own ban back in April after an influx of Ukrainian agricultural products put pressure on their farmers.
The current agreement involves trade restrictions on four commodities – wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds – originating in Ukraine and will come to an end on 15 September.
But a coalition of frontline member states – including Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia – have joined forces to push for this to be extended until the end of the year.
“I hope that this will be extended, but if it is not, Poland will still have to tackle the issue, and we have demonstrated we can do that,” Telus added.
Telus’ comments on the sidelines of the EU Agrifish Council echo that of his Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who recently told a meeting of agriculture ministers from five Eastern EU countries in Warsaw that his country was prepared to unilaterally block imports from Ukraine.
But Telus does not take the move lightly as it would be in direct violation of EU law, given that trade is an EU competence.
“We don’t want from the EU a one-party solution, this is not going to support European solidarity,” he said, adding that the aim is to “develop European solidarity” instead.
The minister also clarified this would only be a ban on imports into Poland, explaining that the country will continue to support the transit of Ukrainian agricultural goods via the country.
“What we’ve been doing is not against anybody, it is for our farmers,” he said, adding that in the long term, the minister wants to “develop tools that can be used by other countries for years ahead of us”.
“If we develop the tools, they can be useful later on for all the member states and also for Ukraine,” he said.
Asked whether he felt there was enough political support for an extension of the ban, the minister said he definitely feels “the support of the five borderline countries”.
“But today in the discussion we have also had quite many positive opinions from the [other] ministers. At least they presented their understanding for the problems we have to solve,” he added.
However, an EU source told EURACTIV that six member states – Denmark, Germany, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Latvia – opposed the move.
There are also suggestions that some countries would like to see the scope of the ban extended to potentially include other agricultural products in the future to help adapt to changing market conditions.
Ukraine’s exports for both poultry and soft fruit are also worrying European farmers, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said on Tuesday (25 July), hinting that extending the safeguard measures to these products could be an option to look at.
However, for minister Telus, there would be no need to include new commodities in the EU restrictions at least “until the end of the year.”
However, the minister highlighted a number of concerns over transit, pointing out that the quantities exiting Ukraine via Poland have surged.
“Just for comparison, in February, the transit via Poland was 14,000 tonnes, in March it was 120,000 and when the Commission introduced the restricted EU ban in June, we had 226,000 tonnes.”
However, as things currently stand, transit routes are “insufficient”, according to the minister.
“We want to support transit, that’s why we have this proposal to develop the tools and asked to use the seaports in the Baltic Sea, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia,” he said, calling for more support from the EU to achieve this.
Meanwhile, Telus stressed the need for more financial support for Polish farmers.
“If we speak about the financial support, it is obviously not enough compared to the costs burdening our farmers,” he said, pointing out that the Polish state has been subsidising its farmers.
“If we compare the support from the EU funds, it was €70-80 million and we have spent all together to support Polish farmers one billion zloty [€230 million],” he said.
His words are unlikely to go down well with some of his counterparts, several of whom took the opportunity to criticise the threat of unilateral action, including France’s Marc Fesneau, who pointed out before the meeting that border countries have already had a lot of support.