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Warsaw wants Brussels to help Polish farmers hit by cheap imports from Ukraine

26.02.2024 09:00
Warsaw wants Brussels to compensate Polish farmers for some of the losses they have incurred as a result of a massive inflow of cheap produce from Ukraine, the Polish agriculture minister has said.
Czesław Siekierski
Czesław Siekierski P. Chmielewski/PR

Polish farmers last week blocked the country's border with Ukraine and disrupted traffic nationwide in an intensifying protest against what they say are unfair European Union policies leading to an influx of cheap agricultural products from Ukraine.

Polish farmers protest at the Medyka border crossing with Ukraine on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Polish farmers protest at the Medyka border crossing with Ukraine. Photo: PAP/Darek Delmanowicz

Polish Agriculture Minister Czesław Siekierski on Saturday met with protesting farmers in the east of the country near the Ukrainian border.

He later told reporters that his talks with the farmers' representatives were "calm and substantive, albeit difficult."

Agriculture minister to 'present the demands of Polish farmers' in Brussels

Speaking at a press conference, Siekierski announced that he would travel to Brussels on Monday to attend a meeting of agriculture ministers from across the European Union.

He said he would "present the demands of Polish farmers" and tell the gathering that the Polish government wants the European Union to cover part of the losses incurred by farmers as a result of cheap imports from Ukraine.

"We want to hold talks in Brussels so that the EU can help cover some of the losses our farmers have suffered due to the imbalance in the market created by the uncontrolled inflow of goods" from Ukraine, Siekierski said.

He emphasized that, despite the disagreement over agricultural policies, Poland is determined to continue supporting Ukraine as it battles Russia's invasion, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

Ukrainian gov't officials visit border with Poland

On Friday, a delegation of Ukrainian government officials visited the border with Poland amid protests and blockades of goods from Ukraine by Polish farmers, the Reuters news agency reported.

Despite a request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian delegation was not met by any officials from Warsaw, Reuters reported.

Zelensky said last week that the situation at the border with Poland demonstrated "the erosion of solidarity on a daily basis" as the war with Russia enters its third year.

"We need common decisions, rational decisions, to resolve this situation," he added.

He also asked Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Andrzej Duda and EU officials to come to the border to discuss the matter.

'Meeting with Polish officials did not take place': Ukrainian PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on the Telegram messaging app on Friday that "the Ukrainian government is here (on the border) today ... But, unfortunately ... a meeting with Polish officials did not take place," according to a report by Reuters.

The Polish prime minister said on Thursday that the two governments would meet in Warsaw on March 28.

Shmyhal said on Friday that the issue should be resolved "much earlier," Reuters reported.

"Otherwise, Ukraine reserves the right to apply mirror measures at checkpoints," he was quoted as saying.

Shmyhal said in a post on the X social media platform that his country was "grateful to the Polish government for its clear stance on the transit of ammunition, military equipment, humanitarian aid and medical supplies across the border."

He added: "We welcome the initiative of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to include border checkpoints with Ukraine and relevant sections of the railroad in the list of critical infrastructure objects. The Ukrainian government has also made corresponding decisions. In this matter we are in complete agreement with the Polish side."

In a separate post on X, Shmyhal said his government was "offering Ukraine's plan to open the border."

He added that the "five-step" plan includes "joint controls at checkpoints" and a proposal to establish a "trilateral office with the participation of Poland, Ukraine and the European Commission."

Probe after Polish farmers spill Ukrainian rapeseed

Polish police said last week they were investigating an incident in which a load of rapeseed was spilled from a train carrying cargo from Ukraine, according to reports.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said those responsible for the incident must be held accountable.

Earlier last week, protesters at the Medyka border crossing spilled Ukrainian grain on railway tracks, according to reports.

Kubrakov condemned the act, calling it "another political provocation aimed at dividing our nations."

On Saturday, Kubrakov said in an X post: "Another diversion at the Polish railway station Dorohusk. At 9 a.m., unknown persons damaged railroad cars with beans. Today marks exactly 2 years of full-scale Russian aggression. Ukraine is fighting and surviving, in part, thanks to our grain. Those who committed this crime do not want Ukrainian peace and victory."

'Protesting farmers in Poland are not against Ukraine': PM

The Polish prime minister said on Friday, as quoted by his office: "The farmers' protest has a deep justification. It is dramatic because part of the protest is taking place at the border with Ukraine. I want to emphasise that the protesting farmers in Poland are not against Ukraine. These are very often the same people who have helped in the last two years to refugees from Ukraine."

Speaking at a joint news conference in Warsaw with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Tusk said that "Polish farmers are fighting for only one thing - to compete on equal terms."

He added: "We cannot help Ukraine and, at the same time, sacrifice the fundamental interests of Poles and Europeans. It is in the interests of Europe and Ukraine that everyone emerges victorious from this situation, in friendship and solidarity."

Tusk said: "I know that the protesting farmers are not anti-Ukrainian, there may be one or two incidents but we will deal with that."

Ukraine says the blockades are affecting its defence capability and helping Russia's aims, Reuters reported.

Kubrakov said in an X post on Wednesday that "Ukraine will use an additional route across the Danube River to increase exports, at least to pre-war levels."

He added: "This is a matter of our survival, as the Polish blockade of agricultural products effectively stops the land border with the European Union. In the near future, we will launch container transportation across the Upper Danube. The new route will run from the Ukrainian port of Izmail to Romania's Constanta and the Danube ports of Germany. We invite global businesses to consider this stable and predictable route."

Poland's government has sympathized with the protesters' demands but also urged them not to take actions that could jeopardize Ukraine's war effort against Russia, news agencies reported.

The Polish agriculture has voiced understanding for the farmers and said that he is negotiating a deal to limit Ukrainian imports.

The Polish protests come amid a wave of similar demonstrations in other EU countries and reflects broader discontent among agricultural producers across the bloc.

Farmers in France, Belgium, Portugal, Greece and Germany have been protesting against EU measures to tackle climate change as well as rising costs and unfair competition from abroad, according to Reuters.

Polish farmers have long been voicing their concerns over the impact of cheap food imports from Ukraine, the PAP news agency reported.

Photo: Photo: PAP/Wojtek Jargiło

"Our patience has run out," they said in a statement released earlier this month. "Brussels' position ... is unacceptable for our entire agricultural community," they added.

Polish farmers from the Solidarity trade union in early February announced "a general strike," criticising the government for being passive in the face of growing imports of farm produce from Ukraine.

The protests across Europe come in the wake of an EU decision in 2022 to waive duties on Ukrainian food imports, Reuters reported.


Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters, Ukrinform, president.gov.ua