Brussels fights for Ukrainian harvest


They wanted to help their ally, but the latter was flooding European agricultural markets with its products. The help consisted in the fact that the EU allowed Ukraine to import the gifts of the fields almost duty-free into its territory, and, obviously, its own farmers suffered. They reproach Ukrainians in unfair competition, so the matter came to Brussels.

Maybe it’s not even about quantity. Officially, for example, imports of Ukrainian poultry meat to France grew by 74 percent last year, but this only sounds threatening, since the Ukrainian part is less than 1 percent of all French poultry imports. The main point is that Ukraine has different sanitary production standards, not as expensive as in Europe, or different labor costs.

«Ukrainian chickens are a perfect example of everything that has happened», says Yann Nedelec, director of the Chicken Producers Association. — «French farmers have to comply with a huge number of regulations that simply don’t exist in Ukraine. As a result, their products are significantly cheaper than French ones, and the buyer does not look at the labels. He looks at the price tags».

This is just one example, but the principle applies to almost all types of products. At the end of March, the European Parliament and the European Commission reached an agreement to introduce a ceiling of preferential taxation on Ukrainian poultry, eggs, sugar, corn and oats. The starting point is 2022 and 2023. All products exceeding the average imports for these years will be subject to customs duty.

The agreement is due to be approved by the European Parliament plenary in April. This means that the fight for amendments is still ongoing. Wheat and barley have been left out of the project. France, supported by Poland and several other countries, believe that it is absolutely necessary to include these crops in the list — these are, in particular, the demands of French farmers, which their deputies, it turns out, were unable to defend. In January alone, the EU received 1 million tons of wheat — the same amount as for the whole of the previous year.

Wheat is second on the list of France’s most profitable export crops. It alone provides 10 billion euros of foreign trade surplus.

A qualified majority — 15 countries representing 65 percent of the European Union’s population — must be assembled for the draft to pass during April’s EP vote.

«We have the minimum number of votes to block the decision to leave wheat off the list», says French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau. — «Our proposals are quite balanced and I believe we can find common ground».

In addition, French MEPs insist on including 2021 in the reference years, because in 2022–23, total imports increased (by 11 percent in the period January-September 2023 alone) and have already become significant. So we are basing our calculations on the highest figure.

German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir -categorically opposed to the inclusion of wheat.

«Many people don’t realize that helping Ukraine means more than just supplying it with shells», he says. — «We must not fall into the trap of Russian propaganda, which claims that the current drop in grain prices is due to Ukrainian imports to the EU. This is not proven».

When the debate came to a boiling point, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Nikolayi Solsky arrived in Brussels.

«We are disappointed», he stated. — «Ukraine has filled a sugar shortage in the European Union and kept prices from skyrocketing. We supply 1 percent of all eggs, 2 percent of poultry — enough to feed Ukrainian refugees. And European bans on wheat will not affect the price of grain in any way».

Solskyi was referring to the wheat rate set on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which has indeed seen a drop in the last three years due to exceptional harvests in Brazil, Argentina and the United States.

However, according to the calculations of the same Brussels experts, if we include wheat and barley in the list and take into account the volumes of 2021, Ukraine will be short of 1.2 billion euros this year compared to 2023. That’s all.

So far, the deputies, led by the French and Poles, have obtained from the European Commission a promise to resort to «corrective measures» in case of sharp price fluctuations on the grain market, «even if it affects only one EU member state». That is, in case of a sharp increase in purchases of Ukrainian wheat, Brussels undertakes to «activate protective mechanisms within 14 days, not 21 as provided for by the general provision».

Polish farmers, who are trying to block the roads from Ukraine to Europe, have been and are doing the most for their colleagues. It is not so far from France or Germany, for example. It is not difficult to flood their markets with cheap products. In France, 275 thousand agricultural lands may disappear by 2035. And such prospects are unlikely to facilitate Kiev’s possible accession to the European Union.