Ukraine files WTO lawsuit against Poland, Slovakia, Hungary over agri import ban

Ukraine has filed lawsuits at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against Poland, Slovakia and Hungary following their decision to unilaterally impose a ban on Ukrainian agricultural goods.

“It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods,” Ukrainian deputy Prime Minister and economy minister, Yuliya Svyridenko, said in a statement announcing the decision on Monday (18 September).

The decision follows Poland, Slovakia and Hungary’s decision to unilaterally impose restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports on Friday (15 September) after the European Commission decided not to extend its temporary ban on imports into Ukraine’s five EU neighbours.

The EU ban – which covered wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds – was originally put in place to appease frontline countries facing an influx of Ukrainian agricultural products. The influx, which put local farmers under pressure by driving prices down, led to the countries unilaterally imposing their own trade restrictions back in April.

For Ukraine, Friday’s action by the three EU countries is a “violation of international obligations”, according to the statement, which called the unilateral actions of EU member states in the field of trade “unacceptable”.

“All member states of the bloc should coordinate and agree on trade policy, as it belongs to the exclusive competence of the EU,” the statement reads. 

“That is why we file lawsuits against them in the WTO,” Svyridenko said, adding that, at the same time, Ukraine “hope[s] that these states will lift their restrictions and we will not have to clarify the relationship in the courts for a long time”. 

According to the Svyridenko, the ban has left its mark on Ukraine’s agricultural sector. 

“Domestic exporters have already suffered and continue to suffer significant losses due to downtime, additional costs and the impossibility of fulfilling foreign economic agreements,” the statement reads. 

“We need solidarity with them and protection of farmers’ interests,” it stresses, adding that the steps Ukraine has taken and the pressure of the European Commission and other member states will “help restore normal trade between Ukraine and neighbouring countries, as well as show solidarity between us”.

Collapse of coordination platform?

The news comes as the Polish Press Agency (PAP) reports that Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have pulled out of the joint coordination platform, a gathering of EU frontline countries together with representatives from the Commission and Ukraine who have been regularly discussing the issue of the ban over the past few months. 

While he did not confirm the rumours, speaking to journalists at the meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Monday (18 September), Poland’s agriculture minister Robert Telus suggested that it might be “dangerous” to continue participation with the platform amid concerns of lawsuits. 

“If we are on this platform and if the Ukrainian side says that it wants to cite us to the WTO, then any statement we make on this platform can be used against [us],” he said, adding that, until Ukraine “backs down” on its threat to bring the case to the WTO, it is “dangerous for us to continue to participate there”.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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