May 23. 2024. 7:24

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Budapest steps up checks to prevent entry of Ukrainian agricultural products

While the EU is moving to renew trade liberalisation with Ukraine, Budapest announced on Thursday (11 April) it would tighten controls on the import of the liberalised agricultural products regardless of their origin, for which it unilaterally banned imports from Ukraine in 2023.

Budapest announced it will establish a reporting obligation for companies in Hungary importing any of the agricultural products for which imports from Kyiv have been banned – including some grains, oil seeds, eggs, and poultry.

Agriculture Minister István Nagy presented the measure at a press conference on Thursday.

The provision is part of a five-point government package to tackle farmers’ concerns, which also includes an increase in agricultural diesel subsidies.

The move comes as the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have reached a hard-fought deal extending Ukraine’s trade benefits until June 2025.

“Brussels and the European Commission have betrayed European farmers and are supporting Ukrainian oligarchs instead,” Hungarian national media quoted Nagy as saying.

Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia introduced unilateral bans on Ukrainian agricultural imports in September 2023 to stem a surge in imports from Kyiv after the EU lifted trade restrictions following Russia’s invasion.

According to Nagy, granting trade benefits to Ukraine has led to “severe oversupply and significantly low prices” in the EU agri-food market.

The unilateral measures are still in place in the three neighbouring countries and have been repeatedly contested by the European Commission, which has pointed to a breach of EU trade rules.

Longstanding rift

On Thursday, Nagy announced that companies operating in Hungary and dealing with the banned imports would have to notify the Hungarian Food Chain Authority (Nébih) in order to prove that their products did not come from Ukraine.

The minister said the notification must be made electronically by the entity selling the product or organising the transport.

The Hungarian government, whose close relations with the Kremlin have long been a source of concern in Brussels, has been one of the most vocal opponents of trade liberalisation with Kyiv.

While the EU executive has not taken legal action to date to force the three countries to lift their unilateral bans on some Ukrainian imports, Nagy said Budapest was expecting it but would not back down.

Fears of circumvention

Hungary’s move comes after Polish farmers took action on the border with Lithuania last month to ensure that Ukrainian imports did not reach their territory via the Baltic country.

Protesters claimed that Ukrainian grain was being sent to Lithuania and then transported to Poland as an EU product, and they started almost a full week of blockades on 23 February.

Polish farmers have been at the forefront of the dispute over Ukrainian imports, with tensions between the two governments rising in February when protesters staged blockades and dumped Ukrainian grain on their shared border.

Read more with Euractiv

Security is big

Security is big

Some words are bigger than others. When accompanied by "food", the term "security" is one of them.