Tensions are mounting in Brussels after four European Union member states unilaterally banned grain imports from Ukraine. The moves are technically illegal, as such trade policy can only be set at the EU level. But the countries in question, all in Eastern Europe, are panicking over a glut of grain that has sent prices plummeting and is starting to have domestic political consequences.
Poland, which has otherwise been a staunch ally of Ukraine, was the first to enact a ban, after protests earlier this month by Polish farmers spurred the resignation of the country’s agriculture minister. This was followed by a ban from Hungary, the only Eastern European country that hasn’t supplied military support to Ukraine. Slovakia was the next to put a ban in place. Another staunch Ukraine ally, Bulgaria, announced one yesterday. Romania seems likely to follow.
The crisis has been a year in the making. Ukraine, known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” supplies grain to countries all over the world, especially in Africa. When Russia’s invasion blocked shipments from its Black Sea ports, there was concern that it could cause a global famine. In July, Turkey and the United Nations brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine to allow grain exports from these ports out of the Black Sea. But the patchy shipments made possible by the deal haven’t been enough to restore exports to their prewar levels. So the EU stepped in to provide an alternative: abolishing its import tariffs for grains and other food staples so that they could flow from Ukraine through the EU and onward to the rest of the world via so-called solidarity lanes.