EU Ends Ukrainian Grain Ban While Some Member States Implement Their Own

Following months of issues over Ukrainian grain exports, the European Union decided on September 15th, 2023 to not renew the temporary ban on Ukraine’s grain, with the promise that Ukraine agrees to enact measures to avoid any surges in EU imports. But, while the EU has decided to end their ban, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania all have announced that they would continue to ban Ukrainian grain, and have enacted their own restrictions on Ukrainian exports. They argue that the influx of Ukrainian grain had created a glut that tanked prices for their own grain, so these measures are necessary to protect their domestic farmers.

Prime minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki says that Poland will implement its own ban on Ukrainian grain, saying at a campaign rally that Poland will “extend this ban despite their disagreement, despite the European Commission’s disagreement. We will do that because it is in the interest of Polish farmers.”

Hungary has decided to extend their own ban on Ukrainian grain, but to also block 24 other Ukrainian exports. The Hungarian Minister of Agriculture Istvan Nagy explains that Hungary is “…defending the interests of farmers, so now that Brussels has decided to no longer maintain the ban on imports of Ukrainian agricultural products, our country will do so under national competence and even extend it to a wider range of products.”

The prime minister of Slovakia Ludovit Odor announced that Slovakia will continue to ban Ukrainian grain through the end of the year. He said in a statement, “We have to prevent the Slovak market from excessive pressure and be fair to local farmers.”

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy had welcomed the EU’s decision to allow their grain ban to expire, but criticizes the new bans enacted by the member states. Zelenskiy says in a nightly address that it was “important that European unity works on a bilateral level—with the neighbors.” He says that Ukraine’s neighbors should be working to support Ukraine, and promises that if “neighbor’s decisions are not neighborly, Ukraine will respond civilly.”

With Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania enacting their own restrictions on Ukrainian grain, their decisions ultimately clash directly with that of the EU. This divide questions the strength of European cohesion in support of Ukraine, and highlights potential future bumps down the road in co-operation and co-ordination as the war progresses.

Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine was one of the largest exporters of grain, but they have been struggling to sell this particular resource due to the ongoing war. The dispute over Ukrainian grain began when Russia blocked shipping lanes over the Black Sea, causing Ukrainian grain shipments to have to be rerouted overland through Europe. Farmers in multiple EU member states had been unhappy with this as it caused a drop in prices—this prompted multiple member states to begin restricting the movement of Ukrainian grain. These tensions ultimately culminated in the EU imposing a ban on Ukrainian grain. The EU adopted this temporary ban in May of this year after “market distortions” appeared in Member States bordering Ukraine—it was a solution meant to allow passage of Ukrainian grain through EU countries, but restricted it from entering the market. The EU says that these “market distortions” have since subsided, thus leading to their decision not to renew grain ban measures.

Thus, certain member states pushing back against the EU’s recent decision  questions the coherence of Europe in face of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. President Zelenskiy has condemned the decision of states to continue the grain ban, and even said that such action plays into Russia’s hands. As the grain dispute carries on, it continues to raise the platform for increased tensions—for instance, Poland has also announced that they will no longer be sending weapons to Ukraine, and has threatened to add more products to the import ban. Ultimately, the potential escalation over Ukrainian grain will continue to test European support in Ukraine’s war against Russia.