KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine agreed on Thursday to license its grain exports to Slovakia and pushed for a deal with Poland to lift its neighbors’ restrictions on grain they ship overland since Russia’s invasion last year had to.
Slovakia, Poland and Hungary imposed national restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports last week after the European Union’s executive branch decided not to extend its ban on imports to those countries and fellow blocs Bulgaria and Romania.
The countries have argued that cheap Ukrainian agricultural goods, destined primarily for onward transport west and to ports, are sold locally, hurting their own farmers. The EU, which imposed its ban in May, allowed it to expire on Friday after Ukraine vowed to tighten controls.
For much of last year, about 60% of grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest exporters, was transported through the five eastern EU countries.
The dispute escalated when Ukraine, which had switched to overland routes to the west after a virtual blockade of its Black Sea ports by Russia, filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the bans and threatened retaliatory import restrictions.
Slovakia’s agriculture ministry said it had agreed with Ukraine to introduce a grain trade licensing system that, once implemented, would allow the lifting of a ban on imports of four Ukrainian goods into Slovakia.
“(The ministers) agreed on the creation of a grain trading system based on the issuance and control of licenses,” the Slovak ministry said by email. “Until this system is operational and fully tested, the ban on imports of four goods from Ukraine will remain in effect.”
Ukraine has agreed to drop its WTO lawsuit, the Slovak ministry said. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment. A WTO spokesman said there was currently no information about a possible cancellation of Ukraine’s consultation request.
Ukraine said its agriculture minister agreed in a phone call with his Polish counterpart to work out a solution to the grain dispute in the interests of both countries.
“There is no one in Ukraine who would be interested in causing any problems for Polish farmers,” Ukrainian Ambassador to Poland Vasyl Swarych told the Polish state news agency PAP, adding that he believes an agreement in the grain issue can be achieved.
Spain’s agriculture minister said on Monday the bans appeared to be illegal, while his French counterpart said they called European solidarity into question.
President Volodymyr Zelensky angered his neighbors when he told the United Nations General Assembly that Kiev was working to maintain overland routes for grain exports but that the “political theater” surrounding grain imports was only helping Moscow.
Ukraine last month announced a humanitarian corridor to free ships stuck in its ports heading to African and Asian markets. The corridor, which encircles the western coast of the Black Sea, is intended to bypass the de facto Russian blockade after Moscow this summer abandoned a deal that had guaranteed its wartime exports.
The first ship loaded with grain from Ukraine to enter and exit the Black Sea via the temporary corridor arrived off the Bosphorus in Turkey on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Jan Lopatka in Prague, Alan Charlish in Warsaw and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Geneva; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
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