6 Feb 2024 12:24

Hungary to maintain ban on import of Ukrainian agricultural products until EU restrictions are introduced

MOSCOW. Feb 5 (Interfax) - Hungary will not lift its unilateral ban on imports of Ukrainian agricultural products until restrictions are introduced at the pan-European level, Hungarian Minister of Agriculture Istvan Nagy said on Kossuth Radio.

Hungary's Ministry of Agriculture said that Nagy feels that agriculture and food self-sufficiency in Europe are currently under threat, since European agriculture has never been so "imbued with green ideologies" without farmers having protection from agricultural products coming from third countries, specifically from Ukraine.

"Until imports of Ukrainian grain are limited by a pan-European decision, the Hungarian government will continue to close the country's borders to Ukrainian grain as a unilateral decision," the Hungarian minister said.

He added that Hungary cannot allow Ukrainian grain to continue to flow into the European Union in unlimited quantities, since "the interests of Eastern European and border countries cannot be ignored."

Although the French and German lobbies are expected to remove poultry, eggs and sugar from the list of products that can be imported duty free without restrictions into the European Union, Nagy considers it "unworthy" that the countries of Eastern Europe are left alone with a grain problem that "cannot be kept quiet."

The minister expressed satisfaction that Hungary has been able to find partners on the issue of closing borders to Ukrainian grain as part of the Visegrad Four (V4, the political-economic union of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia).

"V4 cooperation, complemented by Romania and Bulgaria, has been successful so far," he stated.

Meanwhile, Nagy supports the upcoming blockade of the Ukrainian border in Zahony by Hungarian farmers on February 9. Hungarian farmers oppose the extension of duty-free trade in Ukrainian agricultural products in the EU through 2025 unless the European Union can come up with a common solution to the problems it causes.

Nagy also said that the Hungarian government supports farmers and increased national co-financing of the agricultural sector to 80%. "This is inherent to the alliance between the Hungarian government and farmers, and this is what I think is right for the government at the moment," the minister said.

As reported, on February 9, a nationwide farmers' strike will also start in Poland. The reason for the protest is the European Commission's proposal to extend duty-free trade with Ukraine through June 2025. The protests will last 30 days, during which farmers intend to block all Ukrainian-Polish border crossings.

The duty-free trade regime between Ukraine and the EU, introduced in 2022 in order to reorient a significant part of Ukrainian agricultural exports to Europe, led to cheap food finding its way from Ukraine to its neighboring countries. This sparked protests from local farmers. The greatest damage was caused to the agricultural sectors of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Under pressure from these countries, the European Commission was forced to take special measures in May 2023, banning imports of Ukrainian food into these states (specifically, wheat, rapeseed, sunflower and corn). After the ban expired in mid-September, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland introduced prohibitive measures at the national level against the will of the European Commission. Moreover, Poland expanded its list of products prohibited for import to include rapeseed cake and meal, as well as corn bran, wheat flour and derivative products. Hungary's list includes 24 items. Kiev responded by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). Currently, WTO proceedings are suspended in anticipation of negotiations with the participation of the European Commission.

In order to unblock agricultural product exports to the EU, the Ukrainian government has introduced a rule that local exporters must obtain verification and approval (licensing) for the export of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower to Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.