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Media: Polish minister opposes extending EU free trade agreement with Ukraine

by Martin Fornusek January 10, 2024 2:27 PM 2 min read
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski walks through the parliament corridors ahead of the vote of confidence on Donald Tusk's government cabinet during a session at the parliament on Dec. 12, 2023, in Warsaw, Poland. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)
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In a letter to the EU trade commissioner, Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said he is "fundamentally opposed" to a prolongation of the EU's free trade regime with Ukraine, the Polish radio RMF24 reported on Jan. 10, citing the obtained letter.

Instead, he allegedly proposed "gradual, mutual liberalization, accompanied by gradual adjustment of Ukrainian agriculture to EU standards and law."

The European bloc temporarily lifted restrictions on trade with Ukraine in June 2022 to aid the country's economy amid an all-out war with Russia. The following influx of cheaper Ukrainian imports sparked disputes between Kyiv and some EU members, namely Poland.

While the free trade agreement is currently set to expire on June 5, Brussels is already working on an extension until 2025.

Siekierski allegedly pointed out the "counterproductive effects" of the trade liberalization introduced in 2022. He emphasized that excessive imports are related not only to grain but "also sugar, poultry, eggs, soft fruit, and apple concentrate," RMF24 reported.

As one of the world's leading agricultural producers, Ukraine's cheaper grain imports raised worries among its European neighbors, who complained of uneven competition and logistical bottlenecks.

After an appeal by Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, the EU temporarily banned grain and several other select agricultural goods between May and September 2023.

Poland, at the time governed by the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), was one of the countries that had prolonged the embargo unilaterally after its expiration, a decision maintained also by the current coalition government.

Ukrainian imports of items like sugar, eggs, and poultry, which are not currently included in the ban, rose sharply in recent months, pushing down prices within the European bloc.

The Polish agriculture minister reportedly wrote that imports of Ukrainian sugar alone had increased twenty times. The Polish EU commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, previously threatened to block the extension of the trade agreement with Ukraine unless restrictions on poultry and sugar are put in place, RMF24 wrote.

This step was also one of the demands of Polish farmers until recently blocking the Shehyni-Medyka crossing with Ukraine. Although the Polish government reached a deal with the protesters to end the blockade on Jan. 6, the ban on sugar and poultry was reportedly not included in the agreement.

While maintaining a tough stance on Ukrainian imports, Donald Tusk's government appears to be taking some steps toward de-escalation. In his letter, Siekierski allegedly announced that Warsaw would return to the EU coordination platform, which is aimed at finding acceptable mechanisms for trade between Ukraine and its neighbors.

The PiS government withdrew from the platform after the EU Commission failed to extend the ban on Ukrainian grain last September.

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