BRUSSELS (AP) — Hoping to maintain a unified stance on Russia's war in Ukraine, the European Union on Tuesday looked for a way to satisfy the concerns of member nations facing a destabilizing glut of Ukrainian farm exports.
The 27-nation EU lifted agricultural import restrictions last year to help Ukraine get its vast grain supplies to world markets amid a Russian blockade. Eastern European nations like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia have since reported being flooded with imported products.
To protect their farmers, the countries unilaterally banned Ukrainian farm imports for their national markets. The moves went against the principle that the EU sets trade policy for all 27 nations and could give the impression that the bloc is fighting internally instead of facing Russia jointly.
"We are really, really afraid of the consequences of these unilateral restrictions. And Finland sees that this restrictions can call into question unity in support of Ukraine," Finnish Agriculture and Forestry Minister Antti Kurvinen said.
Overall though, there was acceptance that the lifting of import tariffs had seriously skewed local markets in nations close to Ukraine. In Poland, wheat imports went from 2,375 tons in 2021 to 500,008 tons last year. Maize went from 5,863 tons to 1,840,670 tons over the same period.
Similar increases were seen in Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
Agriculture ministers from throughout the EU met Tuesday to identify a compromise solution.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote the leaders of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria last week with a set of proposals that she said "responds specifically to the concerns of front-line member states and stakeholders, including farmers, and will allow us to react even quicker in the future."
Von der Leyen's letter acknowledged the issues that farmers encountered after the EU lifted duties on Ukrainian grain to ease exports when Russia's naval blockade kept shipments from leaving Ukraine's Black Sea ports last year. Relaxing the tariffs led to unintended export surges and, as a result, lower prices that cut into farmers' incomes.
The European Commission's proposals build on an initial support package of 56.3 million euros for the most affected farmers with the possibility of a second package of 100 million euros.
Any EU solution would have to include the front-line countries retracting their import bans, officials said.
"We need joint solidarity, and our stand in the markets must be a common one," French Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Marc Fesneau said.