Poland's unilateral decision to ban imports of Ukraine's agricultural products, in violation of EU agreements, has caused shock among Ukrainians. Nazar Bobytsky, head of the Ukrainian office of the Polish Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, says Brussels must show Kyiv it is serious about Ukraine joining the EU.
KYIV — The announcement by Poland's government on Saturday of a ban on grain imports and other agricultural products from Ukraine was motivated by a single reason: to protect the Polish agriculture sector.
Yet the negative consequences of such a step for the Ukrainian economy are clear and immediate: the ban on imports, as well as on transit, threatens to disrupt hard-won export contracts, forces a revision of plans for the planting season, and disrupts the logistics supply chains built up with such difficulty as a much-needed alternative to the sea route.
But the ban also could have longer-term effects, including the undermining of investment plans to build transfer points for bulk agricultural goods on the Ukrainian-Polish border, including with the participation of European and international financial institutions.
The security and geopolitical implications are also becoming evident: the Kremlin will seize the moment to begin trying to sabotage the grain corridor agreements with Ukraine.
However, Ukraine should pay extra attention to the systemic damage that this ill-conceived move by the Polish economic ministry causes to trade relations between Ukraine and the EU. Hungary quickly followed this precedent and introduced a similar ban, and Bulgaria is on the way.
And this is happening as Ukraine and the European Union institutions prepare for the next, most crucial stage of Ukraine's EU integration, the start of pre-accession negotiations on Kyiv's membership in the Union.
What about Polish wine?
This move by Poland violates the Association Agreement by banning imports of Ukrainian goods into its national border, but as an integral part of the EU internal market. The decision of the Polish Ministry can hardly be called compatible with the EU legislation itself, namely the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which guarantees the unimpeded circulation of goods within the customs union. For goods originating from approved third countries (such as Ukraine), the EU Treaty directly and unambiguously grants the same status as goods of European origin.
Can the inclusion of Ukrainian wines in the ban list be explained by the critical situation of Polish wine producers? Is it justified to include Ukrainian beef and pork, which now cannot access the EU market?
Yes, last year's decision by the EU to grant unprecedented duty-free and quota-free imports to Ukrainian goods also came with a safeguard mechanism, but activating it should have been preceded by an appropriate investigation based on an objective economic analysis, taking into account the arguments of the Ukrainian side. Instead, Poland acted alone, without consultation.
A vessel is seen in the port upon arriving under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Odesa, southern Ukraine
Grain is not a weapon
The decision of the Polish Ministry lays several dangerous precedents. First, it calls into question the integrity and effectiveness of the EU internal market both from an economic and legal point of view. Such doubts will only grow if Ukraine will does see a decisive and effective response from the European Commission to the steps taken by Polish officials shortly.
The Polish side is counting on Kyiv's "understanding"
Budapest's almost lightning-fast mirror decision should be considered the first bad sign of a ripple effect. Such a precedent does not bode well for the pre-accession negotiations between Ukraine and the EU, as it indicates to the Ukrainian side that it is possible to correct future "distortions" in EU trade liberalization that will inevitably arise from Ukraine's economic integration into the European market.
The decision of the Polish side was made in an atmosphere of a heated election campaign in the country and in the context of comprehensive political agreements reached during President Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Warsaw.
The Polish side is counting on Kyiv's "understanding" of the problem in the agricultural sector of its key ally on the eve of the election cycle.
However, is such a tradeoff worth it to Ukraine?
Yet, the unilateral decision of the Polish government frees Kyiv to confront Europe about the nature of its agreement on trade, both for the present and future.
We must separate military-strategic cooperation from matters that are in a qualitatively different plane of Ukrainian-European relations, taking into account the impact of imports on the situation on the EU market as a whole and taking into account the arguments of the Ukrainian side.
In the long term, Brussels should prioritize funding for projects related to the transshipment and transit of Baltic agriculture across the Ukrainian-Polish border. The Commission should remove unnecessary bureaucracy and regulatory restrictions from EU financial instruments in transport policy.
Otherwise, the Ukrainian side has every reason to assert its right to demand compensation for the losses as a result of the violation of the standing trade agreement with the EU.