Glut of cheap Ukrainian grain sparks farmers’ protests

By Christian Edwards, CNN

Farmers in central and eastern Europe protested this week against the impact of cheap Ukrainian grain imports, which have undercut domestic prices and hit the sales of local producers.

Protesters blocked traffic and border checkpoints with tractors along the border between Romania and Bulgaria, in an effort to prevent Ukrainian trucks from entering their country, according to local news outlets.

Local producers say they cannot compete with the price of Ukrainian grain and have demanded compensation from the European Commission.

Ukraine, often called the “breadbasket of Europe” due to the vast quantities of grain it produces, had its Black Sea ports blockaded by Russia following the invasion in February 2022.

Fearing that the situation was “threatening global food security,” the European Commission set up what it called “solidarity lanes” in May to facilitate exports.

The Commission also temporarily eliminated all duties and quotas on Ukraine’s exports, allowing a glut of cheap Ukrainian grain to flow into Europe.

"The Romanian farmer, geographically European, practically alone," read a banner at the protest in Bucharest.

This has caused “huge market distortions” in neighboring countries, according to European farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca.

Pekka Pesonen, Secretary General of Copa-Cogeca, told CNN “the EU needs to address the severe consequences that open borders and unmanaged imports of some agricultural goods have caused to the bordering EU member states.”

“We call for stabilizing import volumes to match our EU capacity to absorb the inflow of goods,” he added.

Anger grew after the European Commission announced a draft decision to extend duty-free and quota-free imports of Ukrainian grain until June 2024, prompting Polish agriculture minister Henryk Kowalcyzk to resign from his post Wednesday.

In Kowalczyk’s resignation statement, he said that the Polish government – along with those of Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria – had submitted a request to the European Commission to “activate the protection clause in the field of duty-free and quota-free imports of grain from Ukraine.”

“Bulgaria is in solidarity with Ukraine, but a local glut is being created on the agricultural market, because instead of export corridors our countries are becoming warehouses,” Bulgaria’s agriculture minister Yavor Gechev said.

The National Association of Bulgarian Grain Producers said “Bulgarian farmers’ warehouses are full of stagnant produce. There is no market for Bulgarian grain.”

According to their data, 40% of last year’s grain and sunflower harvest remains unsold.

Romanian farmers are also feeling the strain. At protests in Bucharest on Friday, Liliana Piron, executive director of the League of Romanian Agriculture Producers’ Associations, said farmers have “reached a point where they feel they can no longer face the costs” of “unfair competition” from Ukraine.

“We are less than three months away from the new harvest and the danger is real, that the goods we will have ready this season will not be able to be sold at prices above production costs,” Piron said, according to RadioFree Europe.

“We will witness a chain of bankruptcies of Romanian farmers,” she added.

In response to the growing unrest, the European Commission last month proposed support measures worth 56.3 million euros (around $61.3 million) for Bulgarian, Polish and Romanian farmers “to compensate affected farmers for the economic loss due to increased imports.”

“The trade disruptions incurred by the Russian aggression should not take place at the expense of farmers from neighboring countries,” the Commission said in a statement.

CNN’s Alex Hardie and Antonia Mortensen contributed reporting.

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