MoI inaugurates new building in Al-Jahra n
MoI inaugurates new building in Al-Jahra n
MoI inaugurates new building in Al-Jahra

BRUSSELS: EU member states and lawmakers on Wednesday reached a deal to cap duty-free imports of a range of Ukrainian farm goods, which were allowed in the wake of Russia’s invasion but have drawn fierce protests from farmers in the bloc.

The agreement renews for one year a broad tariff exemption first granted in 2022, but adds “safeguards” for a list of products including maize, oats, eggs, poultry, sugar and honey to stop cheaper imports from flooding the market. The 27-nation bloc initially dropped tariffs on Ukrainian imports in a bid to help keep Ukraine’s economy afloat after the country was invaded by its neighbor.

Two years into the conflict, EU farmers complain they are being undercut by less expensive imports from Ukrainian producers not bound by the bloc’s stricter rules—for example, on animal welfare—with the issue fuelling angry protests across the bloc. In response to those concerns, the regulation “provides for an emergency brake for poultry, eggs and sugar” as well as “oats, maize, groats (grain kernels) and honey”, the European Parliament said in a statement. The “brake” would be used to stop duty-free imports rising beyond the average volumes of 2022 and 2023. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, in Brussels for talks with EU leaders, called the overnight deal a “very good decision”.

European Parliament rapporteur Sandra Kalniete said the accord “reinforces the EU’s continued commitment to stand by Ukraine” in the face of the Russian invasion. She said it also “bolstered safeguard measures that would alleviate the pressure on EU farmers should they be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in Ukrainian imports”. Wheat and barley will not be subject to import safeguards, a decision that triggered an angry response from farmer groups that said this was a key demand.

Polish farmers have been blocking checkpoints with Ukraine in anger at imports from their war-torn neighbor, and this week expanded their protests to the western border with Germany.

Member states had signed off last month on an initial European Commission plan for narrower safeguards, but the EU parliament subsequently called for cereals and honey to be included, prompting a new round of negotiations. France in particular was pushing for caps on wheat, and its Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau called the overnight deal “insufficient.” “The work continues,” he said. “This is not the end of the process.”

The agreement has yet to be formally adopted by EU member states, and by EU lawmakers meeting in late April, with a view to having it come into force on June 6. Christiane Lambert of the powerful Copa-Cogeca European farmers’ association said the deal as stands “does not answer the concerns of producers and therefore remains unacceptable”. Copa-Cogeca was also pushing for curbs on duty-free wheat as well as for the safeguard reference period to be extended to include 2021 -- when imports were lower.

The European Parliament statement said lawmakers “attained firm commitments from the (European) Commission to take action if there is a surge of Ukrainian imports of wheat”. They had “also ensured that the Commission would act faster—within 14 days instead of 21 days—if trigger levels for the automatic safeguards were reached”. In a further nod to farmers’ grievances, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen indicated Friday after talks with Polish leader Donald Tusk that Brussels was also looking at restrictions on Russian agricultural imports.

The concessions come three months before European Parliament elections, with opinion polls pointing to a surge of support for far-right parties that have widely seized upon the farmers’ discontent in their campaigning. A French government source said Tuesday that “work is under way to enable Ukrainian agricultural products to return to their original markets in Africa and the Middle East, to which access had been somewhat closed off by the conflict, so that they do not remain blocked in Europe”. — AFP

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