The bars against sales in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia were in place early Saturday, reviving an issue that has threatened European Union solidarity on Ukraine.
Hours after the European Union ended a temporary ban on imports of Ukrainian grain and other products to five member nations, three of them — Poland, Hungary and Slovakia — defied the bloc and said they would continue to bar Ukrainian grain from being sold within their borders.
As Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, has struggled to ship its grain because of Russia’s invasion, the European Union has opened up to tariff-free food imports from the country, a move that had the unintended consequence of undercutting prices and hurting farmers in several countries in the east of the European Union. As part of a deal meant to protect those countries, the bloc allowed some grain to transit through them, but prohibited domestic sales.
Brussels’ decision to let that deal expire at midnight on Friday revived an issue that has threatened European Union unity on support for Ukraine. The Hungarian agriculture minister, Istvan Nagy, announced an extended ban that would include more products in a Facebook post early Saturday morning, saying that “we will protect the interests of the farmers.”
On Friday, Poland‘s president ordered that the ban be kept in place and Slovakia‘s ministry of agriculture also announced a continuation of the ban, underlining that it didn’t apply to transit through the country, “thus expressing solidarity with Ukraine.”
Lawmakers in Bulgaria went in the other direction, agreeing on Thursday to resume imports of Ukrainian agricultural products, The Associated Press reported, saying the ban had cut into tax revenue.
The E.U. ban, which was implemented in May and expired at midnight on Friday, covered exports of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Romania did not immediately comment on the end of the ban.
The ban was a response to concerns from those nations that a flood of cheap, tariff-free food imports from Ukraine was hurting their own farmers. All five had imposed tight restrictions on imports of Ukrainian grain before the E.U. ban came into effect, frustrating officials in Brussels and Kyiv.
A farmer protesting in April in the border town of Hrubieszow, Poland, where grain from Ukraine enters the country.Credit…Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images, via Getty Images
Slovakia and Poland have general elections in coming weeks and farmers in both countries, an important voting bloc, have complained vociferously about low prices that they blame on Ukrainian grain seeping into local markets. Poland’s right-wing governing party, Law and Justice, is particularly dependent on rural voters.
Romania, whose ports on the Danube River and Black Sea port of Constanta have made it the biggest transit route for Ukrainian grain exports, had urged the European Union to extend the May embargo but insisted it only wanted to stop cheap Ukrainian produce leaking into the local market, not its transit. With two years to go before it faces voters again, the government in Bucharest is under far less immediate political pressure over the issue than Polish and Slovak authorities.
The pushback against Ukrainian grain imports from Europe’s formerly communist eastern lands has been a rare, and awkward, note of discord on the continent after remarkable European support for Ukraine’s war effort for more than a year after the full-scale Russian invasion of February 2022.
It is the latest wrinkle in a long list of Ukraine’s grain woes, as fighting has raged around Ukraine’s agricultural heartland and after a huge explosion at the Kakhovka dam caused epic floods downstream and a punishing drought upstream.
This summer, Russia abandoned a deal that allowed Ukraine to safely ship tens of millions of tons of grain via Black Sea ports despite the fighting, raising renewed concerns about a global food crisis. The Russian military has since specifically targeted grain warehouses and port infrastructure around the Black Sea. Dozens of facilities have been destroyed, Ukrainian officials have said, by Russian assault drones.
The Danube ports have in recent months emerged as a new route for Ukrainian grain, accounting for roughly one-third of agricultural exports, including grain, according to industry analysts. These ports, too, have been targeted by Russia.
It was not immediately clear early Saturday how the rapid sequence of developments on Ukrainian agricultural exports to Europe would affect markets in Ukraine, Eastern Europe or beyond.
The European Commission, the E.U. executive arm, did not address the prospect of the new, unilateral bans in a brief statement on Friday. The statement said that market distortions in Ukraine’s five neighbors had “disappeared” as a result of the temporary ban, and that Ukraine was putting measures in place, including an export licensing system, to prevent new distortions.
On Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that he said spoken with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, and thanked for “her keeping her word and upholding the rules of the single market.”
Mr. Zelensky also appeared to address the new bans indirectly in his nightly address on Friday, saying it was “important that European unity works on a bilateral level — with the neighbors.”
“Europe always wins when treaties work and promises are kept,” he added. “Well, if the neighbors’ decisions are not neighborly, Ukraine will respond civilly.”
Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reported from Uman, Ukraine, and Andrew Higgins from Chisinau, Moldova.