Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are blocking imports of Ukrainian grain. This is illegal according to EU law and must be stopped. Ukraine has sued these countries in the WTO, but that is even worse folly, because the European Commission speaks for all EU member states at WTO meetings. Ukraine should withdraw its case from the WTO and let the European Commission mediate.

Ukraine’s agriculture is magnificent. This country has just about the best soil in the world and it has suitable temperatures and desirable volumes of water as well. I was once taken around the corn and soy fields in Illinois. My host told me that only they and the black earth in Ukraine have such ideal conditions for agriculture.

Thanks to the privatization of agricultural land in 2000, Ukraine has seen an explosive development of its grain production. Once again, Ukraine has become the granary of the world. Traditionally, agriculture has accounted for 40 percent of Ukraine’s exports, but last year, after the Russians bombed its steelworks, it rose to two-thirds.

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Russia is pursuing a total war against Ukraine. After it had bombed the steelworks in Mariupol and the machine-building all over, the widespread agriculture remained. Russia started its war by blocking Ukraine’s exports through the Black Sea. The entrepreneurial Ukrainian farmers sought to export by other means – mainly by rail through Eastern Europe.

That was not an optimal solution. The rail capacity to the west was too limited, and the border controls are just madly slow. Rail transportation is much more expensive than shipping, and the cost of logistics is taken from the profit of the Ukrainian farmers. The worst blow, however, was that five Eastern European EU members – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria – temporarily blocked Ukrainian exports of major grains to their countries, and partially even transit. The European Commission tried to mediate and achieved some mitigation by paying limited subsidies to the Eastern European rule breakers, but politics and diplomacy are the rules of the possible.

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On a visit to the US, Poland's foreign minister made powerful statements aimed at reminding Americans that their global credibility is now on the line based on how they choose to support Ukraine.

Now, however, the positions have hardened. It is about politics and poor agriculture. When driving from Ukraine to Poland, one is stunned by how much better the Ukrainian agriculture is. It is not only that Ukraine has much better soil. It has huge fields that are well tended to with big modern machinery. Poland remains fragmented into tiny fields. On many of them little grows, since the main aim of the owners is to extract various government subsidies from being landowners. No consolidation of land ownership is taking place. Therefore, minimal modernization occurs.

Poland might be the most pro-Ukrainian nation, but it is holding highly contentious parliamentary elections on Oct. 15. The populist, though pro-Ukrainian, conservative party Law and Justice (PiS) party is likely to remain the country’s biggest. It appeals to the millions of inefficient small farmers in the east of Poland, so it needs to stand up for them.

Slovakia has parliamentary elections coming up on Sept. 30. The current center-right government has been strongly supportive of Ukraine, but leftwing anti-Ukrainian populist Robert Fico and his SMER party is likely to win. He is openly pro-Russian and anti-Western, appealing to communist nostalgia. The more he quarrels with Ukraine, the better for Fico.

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Hungary’s Viktor Orban should not belong in the EU or NATO. He makes every sign of having been bought by Putin in 2012, when he without any studies decided to buy an expensive nuclear power station from Russian state-owned Rosatom. He benefits politically from any conflict with Ukraine, and if Fico wins in Slovakia he is likely to be strongly reinforced in his anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian attitudes.

Thus, for Ukraine it is a lose-lose situation to raise the grain trade issue with the WTO. Absurdly, Ukraine is forcing an alliance of its enemies – Hungary and Fico are forced to get together with Poland and the whole of the EU. This makes no sense!

Ukraine should withdraw its suit against Poland, Slovakia and Hungary in the WTO instantly! If it does not do so, Ukraine’s best friends – the Balts, the US, the UK or Canada – should tell the Ukrainian leadership that this makes no sense and that it must withdraw its WTO issue.

The natural conciliator is the European Commission. It may somehow protect the Eastern Europeans with substandard and uncompetitive agriculture (notably in Poland), while salvaging the excellent Ukrainian farmers with direct subsidies, an old but tried-and-true cure.

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Anders Åslund is a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (6)

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Hector
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Large monocultures sterilize the soil faster (see data on the decline in the amount of humus in Ukrainian soils). This is one of the reasons why the "Balanced agricultural development" policy is being introduced in the West. IN THIS context, Polish agriculture is more modern;) Co do efficiency (na hektar) zbiorów pszenicy w dostępnych mi danych wskazują, że średnie zbiory w "zacofanej rolniczo" Polsce są wyższe niż na Ukrainie. Mimo zapewne znacznie niższej ilości nowoczesnych ciągników, zwłaszcza tych przypominających Leopardy.

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Ukrainian Canadian Railroader
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Ukraine needs to use 56.5" standard gauge railway tracks like the rest of Europe, and adopt the North American practice of high throughput grain elevators located 60 miles apart, and use 105+ car unit trains in shuttle service. It matters not where the exported grain ultimately gets transloaded to a ship. This product can cross the EU in bond...and there's no competitive threat to the local farmers. Get busy folks! Start building. It works in Canada and the US. it can easily work there.

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trifleas
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Writing articles like the one above, in which it is openly stated that the main goal of Polish farmers is to obtain various government subsidies, is extremely unfair. Poland is an agriculturally self-sufficient country and agricultural production constitutes 4o percent of our exports. This self-sufficiency is an extremely important aspect of our national security. And the Polish farmers themselves stated during the strikes that they did not need any subsidies, they just needed the government to regulate the market to stop the dumping of grains and other products from Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Polish products and Poland has not taken Ukraine to WTO court over that.

Ukraine has already lost - not the Polish government against the Ukrainian government, but the Ukrainian nation against the Polish nation.

A great metamorphosis took place this week in Poland. Poles cured themselves of the Ukrainian obsession and became free. Poles are fed up with Ukraine, they are fed up with today's Ukraine and the Ukraine they have experienced bitterly in our history.

We demand that our government defend our market, and Ukraine itself has once again become a shadow of the past to us, thin air, almost invisible, and soon non-existent.

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trifleas
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Ukrainians have no scruples. On July 13, 2023, Ukraine issued a decision to ban the import of hatching eggs, live poultry and poultry products and raw materials from Poland. So far, this country has been the largest importer of one-day-old chicks and slaughter chickens from Poland. As a result of the unexpected and immediate introduction of sanctions, transports of broiler chicks were stopped at the border. Even though the National Chamber of Poultry and Feed Producers warned that this could lead to a real massacre of animals that would die in terrible conditions and suffering, the Ukrainian side did not care about it.

– Chicks of slaughter chickens are delivered to recipients approximately 24 hours after hatching. They are transported in special vehicles to ensure optimal conditions. Unfortunately, these cars are not designed to withstand a delay of several days. Therefore, if the situation does not change in the coming hours, the chicks will die in agony - said Katarzyna Gawrońska, director of KIPDiP.

Half a million chickens died at the border.

https://tygodnik.tvp.pl/szukaj?query=ukraina

John
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@trifleas, If it spews fowl stories like a russian troll then it is is a russian troll. Seriously though, after all the evil your putin regime has done, that's the best troll diversion attempt you can come up with? Even if true, the free world just reads your comment substituting the word 'Russia' for your usage of 'Ukraine'. After all, all bad things that stem from this putin regime initiated war are logically the fault of Russia. What war related story will you give us next so we can get even angrier at Russia ?

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John
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Sadly this allied political animosity is exactly what Russia has wanted. The EU and UN should have protected or put in place the necessary logistics for Ukrainian food products to get to the markets in need of them without unfairly penalizing its most impacted neighbouring countries. I empathize with farmers on both sides facing profitability issues because of Russia's invasion.



If I could say something directly to the Polish nation, I would say thank you so much for your country's support for Ukraine. Poland has been exceptional. You best know the importance of Ukraine succeeding in driving out Putins invaders. You know their fight is your fight

At the same time I want to thank President Zelensky for his extraordinary leadership in this dark period. Yes he is growingly frustrated, but what leader would not be if in his situation. I'd cut him a copious amount of slack given the pressures his country faces. Think of what they've sacrificed. Ukraine continues to need and they deserve our full support. Its' for our own future benefit.



Please Poland and Ukraine step back from this temporary animosity. You are not each others enemies. Your enemy is putin's regime. There must be an acceptable solution to your current issue. We build credibility and open the path for solutions when we admit where we were wrong. Please look beyond your frustrations and work to find the solution. Allies win together or fail together. Their futures are linked.

Jozef
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@John, you are wrong. The enemy is one, who support murdering on both sides. Ukrainians and Russians has to stop it immediately, stop to hate each other, understand their common role and common enemies, and fight against them. This is the same for all of us.

John
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@Jozef, Russian trolls may be paid to say otherwise, but this is clear cut case of Russia invading another neighboring country to steal its resources and further pad the czars wallet.. Putin's regime has shown "no scruples" in its murderous aggression and theft. UN majority votes confirm this. ICC confirms putin is a war criminal for orchestrating theft of Ukrainian children.

Unfortunately for the Kremlin folks you represent, millions in the free world get how important the outcome of the putin initiated war is. In my free time I've written numerous targeted letters to leaders across the world (corporate, NGOs and government), signed lots of petitions, and spent hundreds of hours debunking or reporting Russian trolls...all for free. I also sent United24 about $5k so far towards Ukraine's military needs and more still to other charities for humanitarian support there. Others are doing so much more. How much is the average citizen in one of Russia's limited pool of allies sending them?

Russia your ship has sunk. Every day the free world gets angrier with you. You can't possibly win. The question is how deep will Russians allow putin to dig the hole they all eventually need to climb out of? This war is already a generational embarrassment for the average Russian to live down (once Putin's brainwashing mechanisms are switched off) .

Jozef
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@John, at first: your conviction about my employer is interesting - may be for some readers - but erroneus. I represent myself, not Russia, not Putin. I am sorry, but your view, or sentiment is perfect textbook example of thinking in thu rules of propaganda. In this case, the propaganda springs up from criminals hiding behind UN, behind all of that false proukrainian and anti russian peacemakers' phrases. Millions in the world understand, of course bad behaviour of Russian leadership, but also flase proukrainian ideology. Dear Mr., the result is murders of RU and UA people, thanks to war support.
I have been to Ukraine short before Maidan catastrophe, and liked very much the people and whole state. Now I can say - UA did tragical mistake, when continued to hate Russia and Russians and naively or selfishly prefered collaboration with US, or somebody who wants to destroy RU. UA people were fooled, because they left their essential treasures - Slavic ethnicity and culture, Christian faith, their common growth with Russian empire. They forgot necessity to cooperate with neighbors, not to hate them and fight with them.
...

Jozef
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@John, 2.: my nation wants to be military neutral, not like enemy to Russia, nor UA. If you don't understand it, further discussion is useless. However, our todays government is such fool, that they talk and act only what wants somebody behind UN and todays UA government. They are destroying our economy by warfare, oil, money, social gifts to UA and devastating our people. Our people are prepared to help anybody who needs it, but at first we have to feed our children and secure our state.
If you like to stand on popular attitude, I am sorry, you will negate the reality.

Third: remember viewpoints like one in Brzezinski's The Great Chessboard: "If you want to have the world dominancy, you have to take EurAsia. To take Eurasia you have to take Russia. And Russia you will get when you have Ukraine, (Azerb.?) and (Belarus? - I don't remember now)".
Sooner or later Ukrainians will understand, that they was just used as a tool. They are dying, because of the aims of somebody who doesn't need them more.

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Stockholm
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@John, Excellent post, Sir. I also am frustrated that this issue has come up between such good allies. Yes, the EU and UN should and must make arrangements for transport of Ukrainian grain to Asian, American, and African customers without intruding and damaging the Polish farmer.
Yet, I doubt this will be properly resolved because - IMO - the only organization more incompetent than the EU in the entire universe is the UN.

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Jozef
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Mr. Aslund.
It looks like you are convinced about some right of UA to sell a grain at any rate and obligation of SK, PL, HU to import it. There is no such right and no such obligation. If some State doesn't respect internal rules of another State's economy, it is not a partner but dictator, thief and destroyer. Our economies are damaged by corrupted economic relations to russian partners, as a consequence of stupid sanctions, damaged by export restrictions, damaged by senselles warfare gifts for killing Russians and also Ukrainians, and our economies are dependent on a local producers, from whose efforts - in generations and genarations - we, and also other countries benefit.
It needs to be added, that UA agriculture is not national at all - as you said, it is (probably in majority, like the rest of UA property) private. And who are the owners? Not Ukrainians. Another note: if the UA Agriculture is so modern, why they produce grain with Chlorpyrifos? It was founded in Slovak laboratories.
So please, respect our view of problem, or simply talk with more than one side of discussion.

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