Farmers across Bulgaria protest against Ukrainian grain as division grows in the EU

PERNIK, Bulgaria (AP) — Farmers across Bulgaria protested Monday after the government lifted a ban on food from Ukraine, complaining that the measure will lead to an influx that will drive down prices for local producers .

Hundreds of farmers across the country gathered in their tractors, many of them waving national flags and honking horns as they blocked major roads and disrupted traffic, to express their anger.

The protest follows a decision by Bulgarian lawmakers on Thursday to allow imports from Ukraine to resume, saying the ban had deprived the government of tax revenues and led to higher food prices.

A day later, the European Union also decided not to extend the overall ban about Ukrainian food in five member countries. Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have since unilaterally imposed their own blockades, threatening European unity by supporting Ukraine Russia’s invasion.

The increasing tensions come afterwards Russia has stopped a deal brokered by the United Nations last month to ensure safe deliveries of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world suffering from hunger. For Ukraine, a major global agricultural supplier, more expensive road, rail and river routes through Europe are largely the only way to export its food, although there have been some limited ship movements to its ports.

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Bulgaria’s National Association of Grain Producers said in a statement on Sunday ahead of the protests that farmers were facing “unprecedented difficulties” and called for a ban on a range of foods from Ukraine. These include sunflowers, wheat, corn and rapeseed, but also crude oil, meat, fruit and vegetables, milk, honey and dairy products.

Ventsislav Mitkov, head of the United Farmers’ Union in Bulgaria, said at a protest in the western town of Pernik, about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) from the capital Sofia, that they wanted to ban “absolutely everything.”

“Stop imports from Ukraine. We mean wheat, sunflower, rapeseed, all grains, honey,” he said. “We want greater control and immediate disbursement of European measures.”

The EU said that “market distortions caused by Ukrainian grain” had disappeared. But farmers in the five member states still complain that an oversupply of Ukrainian products is affecting their livelihoods.

Protesters in Bulgaria have vowed to continue demonstrations until their demands are met.

“The stores sell inferior and cheaper products than ours,” Vassil Dzhorgov, a farmer from the eastern city of Radomir, told The Associated Press. “We are operating at a loss and that is why we will give up.”

Ukraine agreed to take measures to control exports of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds to neighboring EU countries. The EU said it would also bring forward proposals within 30 days – such as an export licensing system – to avoid grain increases.

McGrath reported from Manavgat, Türkiye.

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