Europe’s farming lobby shows its muscle, as leaders delay a deal to support Ukraine’s food industry

EU member states failed to reach an agreement on extending tariff waivers for Ukraine’s agricultural sector, giving European farmers a win – at least for now.
Farmers drive tractors into the city during a nationwide protest against EU 'Green Deal' climate policies and cheap Ukrainian agricultural products imports. Krakow, Poland on 20 March 2024.

By Julia Kaiser

Julia is a reporter at The Parliament Magazine

22 Mar 2024

In a victory for European farmers, EU member states this week scrapped a deal to extend the temporary suspension of import duties on Ukrainian agricultural products.

The European Council and the Parliament had reached an agreement earlier in the week that would have continued to grant Ukraine’s agricultural industry tariff-free access to the EU, while imposing import caps on some products. But even that caveat was not enough to appease farmers across the bloc – particularly in France and Poland – who have railed against the influx of cheap Ukrainian foodstuffs. 

“This was not the good answer to a strong problem,” says Arnold Puech d’Alissac, president of the World Farmers’ Organisation, who owns a poultry and beef farm in Normandy. “Now, something new can be negotiated,” he adds.

EU ambassadors have decided to take more time to examine the agreement, according to a Council spokesperson, but could reach a revised deal by next week. If member states were to find a way forward, then the Council would need to formally endorse the proposal before sending it to the EP.

Aside from expanding the current trade liberalization measures through June 2025, the draft agreement included caps on Ukrainian sugar, poultry, eggs, honey, maize, oats and groats if imports were to exceed the average volumes for 2022 and 2023. The EU had initially relaxed its trade restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural goods in June 2022, months after Russia’s full-scale invasion.

But using the past two years as a reference period was calculating with “false friends,” argues Puech d’Alissac. That’s because imports from Ukraine have been much higher since Russia launched its war on Ukraine in February 2022. “The reference should be the time before the war,” he says. Both France and Poland have pushed to use 2021 as the baseline. 

Another point of contention for many European farmers was that the draft agreement would not have reimposed tariffs on Ukrainian wheat – but did leave room for the European Commission to intervene in the event of a surge in imports.

As Puech d’Alissac notes, the market price for Polish wheat is about €145 per ton, while Ukrainian wheat averages around €100 per ton. That price differential has incentivised consumers to buy the cheaper option, squeezing Polish farmers.

A reintroduction of EU tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural products – whether or not such a deal includes wheat – is likely to hurt Ukraine’s economy, says Vitaliy Krupin, an agricultural expert from the Institute of Rural and Agricultural Development of Polish Academy of Sciences.

Agriculture comprises around 10 per cent of Ukraine’s economic output, but currently amounts to roughly half of the country’s exports, according to the expert.

A weakened economy, in turn, might benefit the Russian forces, Krupin argues. “Ukraine does need a lot of help to purchase necessary supplies as well as supporting the soldiers on the frontline, this is quite a big stress for the Ukrainian economy and military,” he says. 

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