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Farmers in Poland block border, angering Ukraine

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-22 10:00
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A man gestures as a Polish farmer drives his tractor during a protest over price pressures, taxes and green regulation, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, and against the import of agricultural produce and food products from Ukraine, in Gdansk, Poland, Feb 20, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Farmers in Poland have sparked fury with protests against the European Union's agricultural policies and cheap Ukrainian grain saturating the market.

Tractors have been used to block border crossings between Poland and Ukraine as farmers have vented about the EU's green deal and tariff-free imports of agri-food from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, farmers blocking the Poland-Ukraine border poured grain from incoming Ukrainian train carriages onto railway tracks.

Authorities in Kyiv have responded to the protests with anger, urging the European Commission to intervene.

The action has strained relations between Warsaw and Kyiv, with ties already on edge after truckers blocked border crossings around the turn of the year.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said the protests were about politics, not grain, because "only 5 percent of our agricultural exports pass through the Polish border".

Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov referred to the protests as a "political provocation aimed at dividing our nations".

Ukrainian media outlets have been showing images of Ukrainian trucks at the border displaying banners with slogans such as "Ukraine loses — Poland loses" and "The blockade of Ukraine is a betrayal of European values".

Polish protest organizers are calling for import bans on Ukrainian agricultural products and changes to the EU's fertilizer regulations.

Due to port infrastructure limitations, surplus Ukrainian grain in Poland has contributed to record-high stockpiles. This is since the EU granted Ukraine tariff — free entry to its markets after the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022.

Last spring, the European Commission imposed restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports to five neighboring countries, but exempted transit shipments.

When the ban was lifted in September, Poland independently enforced restrictions on specific grains, flour, and animal feed.

The pro-EU Polish government supports farmers' calls and advocates for a compromise between Brussels and Ukraine on import regulations.

In January, the EU announced plans for a "safeguard mechanism "to reinstate emergency tariffs on Ukraine, in case excessive imports posed a risk to market stability.

Ukraine's Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko this week notified the European Commission about the activities of the Polish demonstrators at the Ukrainian border, anticipating a robust reaction, reported Reuters.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda said the Polish government was in discussions with farmers and trade unions, and expressed optimism there would be a resolution.

"We are trying to solve this problem," Duda said, according to his presidential website. "This is a certain conflict of interests between farmers and producers of agricultural products in Ukraine — farmers who fear for their existence."

In recent weeks, farmers across Europe have been protesting against EU regulations and what they say is unfair competition from countries including Ukraine.

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