Ukraine has announced its intention to take legal action against Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, seeking redress in the World Trade Organization (WTO) over recent bans imposed by these neighboring countries on Ukrainian agricultural products. This move follows a decision by the three Central European nations to restrict imports of vital Ukrainian export commodities.
The Ukrainian government is gearing up to submit its appeal to the WTO "in the near future," as per a senior official. This decision to pursue legal action against Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia was made after the European Union imposed restrictions in May, granting these countries the authority to ban the sale of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds within their borders while permitting transit for export to other destinations.
Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary recently reinforced these restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports, taking action after the European Commission opted not to extend the EU's ban on imports into Ukraine's five EU neighbors. The governments of Warsaw, Bratislava, and Budapest argue that these measures are taken in the interests of their economies and to protect their domestic farmers.
Ukrainian Trade Representative Taras Kachka stressed that Ukraine could reciprocate with measures affecting the import of fruit and vegetables from Poland if Warsaw did not rescind its additional restrictions.
Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus clarified that Warsaw's ban covers not only four cereals but also meals derived from these cereals, including corn, wheat, and rapeseed.
Radoslaw Fogiel, the head of Poland's parliamentary foreign affairs commission, responded to Ukraine's decision to pursue legal action by warning of potential repercussions for the bilateral relationship. He emphasized that Poland's measures were taken to safeguard Polish farmers and the nation's interests.
"Our decision is not aimed at Ukraine; it is dictated by the protection of the Polish farmer and the protection of Poland's interests," he said.
The European Union allowed its ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports to expire on September 22, following Ukraine's commitment to enhance controls on exports to its neighboring countries. Kachka assured that Ukraine was prepared to assume responsibility for ensuring that its exports do not disrupt neighboring economies. To achieve this, Ukraine intends to introduce a system of "real-time" export licenses for grains.
Data from the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture reveals that during the first three months of the 2023/24 July-June season, approximately 1.4 mn tons of Ukrainian agricultural goods were transported by train, out of a total export volume of 4.5 mn tons. Ukraine primarily utilizes rail transportation to ship grain through border crossings with Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Additionally, Ukraine sent an extra 1 mn tons of oils and oilseeds via rail during the same period.
Ukraine's decision to resort to legal action in the WTO underscores the gravity of the situation for the country's agricultural sector and its determination to protect its economic interests in the face of trade barriers imposed by its neighboring nations. The outcome of this legal battle will be closely monitored as it has far-reaching implications for trade relations in the region.