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Poland and Ukraine Forge Railway Pact Amid Controversial Grain Import Bans

Poland and Ukraine Forge Railway Pact Amid Controversial Grain Import Bans
photo: RAILTARGET Archive/Poland and Ukraine Forge Railway Pact Amid Controversial Grain Import Bans
31 / 08 / 2023

Amid the devastating Russian war, Ukraine has been struggling to find ways to sustain its economy. In particular, exports and imports have been hampered by the blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian occupiers, which has made the Ukrainian railway a key route for importing and exporting goods in wartime. The situation is further complicated by the fact that several European countries, including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria, have imposed a ban on imports of Ukrainian grain. The restrictions were supposed to last until September 15, 2023, but now the governments have asked the European Union to extend the ban at least until the end of this year.

After Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters, faced the challenge of finding alternative routes for grain supplies due to the aggressor country's blockade of its ports in the Black Sea. At the time, European countries, including Poland and Romania, facilitated grain exports from Ukraine, which, in turn, put pressure on farmers because of the competition, prices, and storage capacity, and led to local protests against the government.

It was followed by negotiations with the European Commission on restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports, and, as a result, several countries decided to impose a temporary ban, with Poland unblocking the transit of Ukrainian grain through its territory to ports in Europe.

As September approaches, "Five Central European EU members will jointly ask the EU to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports beyond a September 15 deadline to avoid major market disruptions," Reuters reports, citing Istv├ín Nagy, the Hungarian agriculture minister. The five countries in question are Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Poland.

The latter, in particular, said that this decision is aimed primarily at protecting the interests of its farmers and is even ready to impose bans on its own if the EU does not intervene. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine called this request "categorically unacceptable", while the Polish media outlet RMF 24 stated that the introduction of unilateral restrictions is considered a violation of EU law, and Poland could face penalties for such decisions.

In addition, on August 28, Poland and Ukraine signed a new substantive agreement on the development of railway communication for the first time since 1994 to increase export and import potential.

"We are taking another important step towards strengthening our partnership and developing rail transport between Ukraine and Poland. Together, we will continue to develop the border infrastructure and increase passenger and freight traffic between our countries, which will ultimately have a positive effect on our railways and the national economies of Ukraine and Poland," said Yevhen Liashchenko, CEO of Ukrzaliznytsia.

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