Farmers in Eastern Europe set to protest as EU moves to extend Ukraine trade benefits

Tensions are rising over the renewal of the EU’s trade liberalisation with Ukraine, with the European Commission meeting with neighbouring countries on Tuesday (20 February) and a joint protest in Eastern Europe set to take place on Thursday.

The EU is moving towards extending trade liberalisation with Ukraine – the so-called Autonomous Trade Measures (ATMs) – and many farmers have raised concerns about Kyiv’s agricultural products “flooding” the EU market.

Eastern Europe is the hotspot of the protests. Following blockades on the Ukrainian-Polish border, Slovak, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Czech farmers are coordinating with the Polish to take to the streets on Thursday.

The EU-Ukraine Coordination Platform, set up in 2023 and bringing together Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the European Commission, will meet on Tuesday.

These countries have been most affected by the influx of Ukrainian products, with particular sensitivities around poultry, eggs and sugar.

As such, the EU executive introduced “safeguard measures”, including an “emergency brake” in case the influx of those products from Kyiv goes beyond the average import volumes in 2022 and 2023.

Several EU farmers’ organisations are calling for the extension of the safeguards to cereals, oilseeds and honey, with a pre-war reference period.

“Contacts continue between the Commission and all the affected member states,” European Commission trade spokesperson Olof Gill said on Monday, adding that the group would try to find  “lasting medium- to long-term solutions” within the Coordination Platform.

The forum was set up last June by the EU executive “to improve the flow of trade along the corridors” in neighbouring countries.

To date, several unilateral bans on Ukrainian products remain in place in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

Timing in dispute

The first debate on the renewal of trade benefits took place on Monday in the trade committee (INTA) at the European Parliament, where the rapporteur on the file, the European People’s Party (EPP) MEP Sandra Kalniete, presented a text without amendments to the Commission’s proposal.

During the meeting, several MEPs questioned the timing of the Commission’s proposal.

“[The Commission] prepared this proposal at the very last minute and threatened us with the prospect of the current measures expiring,” said Marek Belka, vice-president of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group for trade.

Similarly, Romanian EPP MEP Iuliu Winkler said the EU executive was “late” and “invoking urgency”.

The possibility of approving the Commission’s proposal without amendments has drawn sharp criticism from farmers’ organisations across Europe.

On Wednesday, it will be the turn of EU countries to discuss the issue. According to diplomatic sources, a wide majority of member states do not want to amend the proposal either.

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro/Nathalie Weatherald]


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