Ukraine Files WTO Complaint as European Allies Clash Over Food Imports

by Ella

Ukraine has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week, raising concerns over import bans imposed by several Eastern European nations on Ukrainian food products. This dispute has brought to light divisions within the European Union (EU) as its member states grapple with how to support Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion in 2022.

Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia initiated import bans on Ukrainian grain and other food items last Friday, asserting that these imports were adversely affecting their own agricultural sectors.


Ukraine confirmed its complaint to the WTO on Monday, with Ukraine’s Economy Minister, Yulia Svyrydenko, emphasizing the importance of demonstrating that individual EU member states cannot unilaterally prohibit Ukrainian goods. She stated, “It is crucially important for us to prove that individual [EU] member states cannot ban imports of Ukrainian goods. That is why we are filing lawsuits against them to the WTO.”


However, it’s unlikely that the WTO will reach a swift resolution, according to trade expert David Kleimann of the Bruegel research group in Brussels, Belgium. He explained that the initial step involves a 60-day consultation period, during which the parties attempt to find a mutually agreeable solution to the dispute. This consultation period could extend into the election-related prologue in Slovakia and Poland, as Slovakia’s election is set for September 30, and Poland’s election follows on October 15.


Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stressed the importance of European states reopening export routes for Ukraine, stating, “We need our neighbors to support Ukraine in times of war. Europe always wins when agreements work and promises are kept.”


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the previous year had disrupted many of Ukraine’s export routes. Moscow’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July, which allowed Ukrainian grain to reach global markets, led to increased global food prices. The Kremlin cited concerns over the safety of merchant ships, as Russian missiles had repeatedly targeted Ukrainian Black Sea ports, causing substantial damage.

In response, the European Union offered Ukraine alternative land routes to access global markets through EU member states bordering Ukraine, known as “solidarity lanes.”

Olia Tayeb Charif, head of research at the Farm Foundation, a French agricultural think tank, noted that some Ukrainian food products entered the European market unexpectedly due to the competitiveness of Ukrainian wheat. This unforeseen influx of products presented challenges for European authorities.

Farmers in neighboring European states staged protests, alleging that Ukrainian food was being dumped on their local markets, impacting their livelihoods.

In May, the EU had offered compensation to affected farmers and allowed temporary import bans on some Ukrainian products in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. However, when the deadline expired on September 15, the EU stated that there was no need to renew these measures as market distortions had largely subsided.

Despite this, European allies strongly criticized the import restrictions, emphasizing the importance of supporting Ukraine during its time of conflict.

The European Commission has called on Ukraine to implement “voluntary export restraint” measures as part of its efforts to persuade Eastern European member states to lift their import bans.

The dispute underscores divisions within the EU as it navigates the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, attempting to balance the demands of member states with its commitment to supporting Ukraine in challenging times. This delicate situation exposes the EU to challenges related to internal cohesion and maintaining solidarity while addressing agricultural market concerns and international obligations.



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