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EU Intervention Needed: Polish Farmers’ Protests Strain Ties with Ukraine

FOOD & AGRICULTUREEU Intervention Needed: Polish Farmers' Protests Strain Ties with Ukraine

For several months now, protests by farmers have been ongoing, including against the import of cheap Ukrainian grain into Poland. In addition to demonstrations and discussions with the government, the protesters are blocking Polish-Ukrainian goods crossings, allowing only two trucks to pass every hour. As a result, at some crossings, trucks wait for entry into our Eastern neighbor for dozens of hours. A boycott of goods from Ukraine could provoke a similar gesture from Ukrainians, which would harm Polish exports in this direction. As Andrzej Rudka from the Confederation Lewiatan says, the whole community has a problem with surplus grain, but every fourth surplus ton is stored in Poland. Hence, this conflict requires intervention from Brussels.

“We are already observing some of the political consequences of the border blockade, but the situation may worsen as it affects not only direct Polish-Ukrainian relations, loss of trust that has been built by the whole society over the last two years, but also relations at the European level,” says Andrzej Rudka, an advisor to the board of the Confederation Lewiatan. “This is a matter of facilitating or hindering Ukraine’s entry into the European Union, which will officially begin shortly, and Poland should – and is – a supporter of this process. Lack of trust in business relations is crucial. There is the potential role of Poland and Polish companies in the reconstruction of Ukraine’s economic potential, and now this role and our participation may be threatened, as the Ukrainian side may be less willing, and our companies may have more concerns.”

Blockades on the border with Ukraine began in the fall of 2023, but intensified in February. On February 20, as part of a 30-day general strike, all Polish-Ukrainian border crossings were blocked. Data from the Lublin Tax Administration show that trucks at outbound crossings from Poland wait from a few to several dozen hours. The waiting time to enter Ukraine in Dorohusk was 77 hours on Thursday, March 14, but two days earlier it was 433 hours, or 18 days. In Medyka, the waiting time is 114 hours.

Farmers are protesting against the import of Ukrainian agricultural products into Poland. Still, according to data cited by the Confederation Lewiatan, our country has more to lose by severing or limiting mutual relations, as Polish exports to Ukraine are almost three times larger than imports. Last year, they amounted to over 11 billion euros compared to less than 4 billion from the Ukrainian side. On the other hand, a representative of the Confederation Lewiatan points out that Polish farmers benefit from cheaper fertilizers from the east and a potential lack of access to them could complicate their operations.

According to him, the European Commission should speed up actions in these talks, which would have a largely symbolic dimension but would also limit imports in this respect. Polish silos currently hold an estimated 9 million tons of imported products, not only wheat but also, for example, corn, and these warehouses must be emptied before the agricultural season and the inflow of new grain. Without financial help from Brussels, Poland will not be able to cope with this problem on its own. Overproduction of food is a problem for the entire Union. Currently, its surplus in all countries is 36 million tons, making Poland more affected by this phenomenon than other countries.

In the European Parliament this week, a discussion took place on the import of grain from Russia and Belarus to the EU. The European Commission ruled out imposing an embargo on these products, citing potential negative effects in the form of high prices, including in the countries of the Global South, but measures to limit imports are likely. Latvia and Poland, among others, have requested an embargo.

“It is certainly interesting that the 13 sets of sanctions imposed on Russia have not so far covered the import of such products from Russia and Belarus, but I understand that this is in line with the general policy of all members of the European Union, where the interests of our neighboring countries, Poland or the Baltic countries, may not be the most important,” says the expert.

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