20 Feb 2024 16:24

Polish Agriculture Ministry's urges protesting farmers to negotiate

MOSCOW. Feb 20 (Interfax) - Czeslaw Siekierski, Poland's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has addressed farmers protesting on the country's border with Ukraine and urged them to negotiate.

"Agricultural protests already took place in the autumn of 2023 and were the result of mistakes by the previous government. Farmers are protesting for a just cause, the country's food security depends on support for agriculture," the minister said in his address, posted on the Polish Agriculture Ministry's website.

Siekierski listed the main demands of the protestors, including simplification of the European Commission's green policy, limiting the inflow of Ukrainian farm produce and making agriculture more profitable.

He said the Polish government had already defended the right of farmers not to halve the use of herbicides before the European Commission. In addition, the principle of withdrawing 4% of arable land from agricultural production and letting it go fallow was challenged.

Regarding Ukrainian farm produce, he said the ban on imports of wheat, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, as well as some processed products such as wheat flour, bran and oilcake remained in force.

"We want to develop a bilateral agreement with Ukraine that would extend market protection to other sensitive products such as sugar, poultry, eggs, soft fruits, honey, apple juice and oil, among others," he said.

Siekierski said Poland had a trade surplus with Ukraine in 2022 which amounted to 3.5 billion euros. However, in terms of trade in agri-food products, the value of exports from Poland to Ukraine in 2023 was 1.033 billion euros, and the value of imports from Ukraine was 1.69 billion euros, resulting in a trade deficit of 656 million euros.

"A complete closure of the border could lead to a halt in Polish exports to Ukraine and to the loss of many jobs," Siekierski said.

Regarding the Polish government's plans, he said that payments would be made to corn growers in 2024 and that all farmers would get compensation in the event of a drought.

"We will endeavor to increase financial assistance to farmers. We have presented the government with the financial needs reported by farmers and resulting from aid programs reported by farmers, including grain subsidies, fertilizer subsidies and higher fuel subsidies," Sekierski said, inviting representatives of the protesting farmers to further negotiations and calling on them to minimize their pressure on society.

The blocking of the Polish-Ukrainian border, no matter what slogans it is accompanied by, has no justification, Ukrainian media quoted Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko as saying.

"The border of Poland and Ukraine is also the border of the EU. It should not be hostage to any political interests," he said on social media.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also considers the aggressive attitude of protesters towards Ukrainians and Ukrainian cargo crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border to be unacceptable.

"Anti-Ukrainian slogans heard at the border confirm the politically motivated nature of the action. Its goal is to provoke a further aggravation of bilateral relations," Nikolenko said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry calls on the Polish authorities to provide a legal assessment of the actions of the protesters, ensure the unblocking of the border and take measures to stop anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, which in Kiev's opinion is based on groundless arguments.

Farmers began a nationwide strike in Poland on February 9. The protests will last 30 days, during which farmers intend to block all Ukrainian-Polish border crossings and transport hubs. Poland is one of the main outlets for the export of agricultural products from Ukraine.

Farmers from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and several other European countries have already joined the protests.