By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Slovakia on Monday joined Hungary and Poland in banning food imports from Ukraine despite objections from the European Union.
Slovakia agreed with its two neighbors to halt Ukrainian grain through June 30.
The three countries said they acted in response to rising anger from farmers who say that a massive influx of cheap grain is causing them economic hardship.
Bulgaria’s government also considers imposing a ban on grain imports from Ukraine. The Czech Republic says it shares the concerns of its regional peers but is not yet considering a ban.
However, the five EU countries that neighbor Ukraine asked Brussels to treat the matter of Ukrainian food with urgency.
Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia said they couldn’t allow their farmers to bear the cost of disruption that Ukrainian grain and other agriculture products are causing to their markets.
Yet the European Commission, the EU’s executive, rejected a ban saying changing trade rules should be coordinated with all member states. “In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU,” it added in a statement. EU talks on the issue were expected on Wednesday.
However, Hungary’s agriculture minister, Istvan Nagy, countered that the surge in Ukrainian products on European markets made it “impossible” for Hungarian farmers to remain competitive.
Nagy said low production costs in Ukraine, “owing to practices being used that are not permitted in EU countries,” allowed Ukraine to export large quantities of poultry, eggs, and honey to the European market, driving costs down to unsustainable levels.
Additionally, the Slovak Agriculture Ministry announced that tests of 1,500 tons of grain from Ukraine in one mill in Slovakia revealed it contained a pesticide banned in the EU.
As a result, the Slovak authorities decided to test all Ukrainian grain in the country and temporarily banned its processing.
Its ban will affect grain imports and other food, including sugar, hops, flax, hemp, fruits and vegetables, and products made of them, vine, honey, and honey products.
Slovak Agriculture Minister Samuel Vlcan said the ban that takes effect Tuesday will remain in place until further notice and doesn’t apply for transit.
Yet the grain import ban in several central and Eastern European countries came at a difficult moment for Ukraine, with Kyiv accusing Russia of sabotaging a deal allowing Ukrainian grain to be exported to international markets.
Under the terms of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations last summer in Turkey, Russia is supposed to allow free passage for ships carrying grain from three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.
However, Ukraine’s Ministry of Development of Communities, Territories, and Infrastructure said the agreement was under threat as Russian representatives refused inspections of ships.
Echoing the complaint, Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, tweeted that “more than 50 ships” were waiting for approval to proceed to Ukrainian ports “to load grain that will feed those who need it.”
Ukraine and Russia are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other affordable food products that developing nations depend on. Poland alone imported nearly 2.5 million tonnes of grain last year, some 75 percent of Ukraine’s total grain output, officials said.
The war interrupted supplies to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia where people were already hungry and pushed millions more into poverty or food insecurity.
Long lines of suffering truck drivers have emerged in border areas, causing traffic jams of up to 25 kilometers. However, questions have been raised about why much Ukrainian grain ends up in the wealthy European Union.
EU representatives cited logistical bottlenecks and “low global prices and demand” as why much grain stayed in the bloc rather than sold to other nations.
Yet as the grain deal nears its May 18 expiry, there was concern Monday that the combined failure to agree on an extension and the ban would strand millions of tonnes of grain inside Ukraine.
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