Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have banned imports of agricultural products from Ukraine.
New laws, in all three countries, came into force on Monday.
Hungary‘s junior agricultural minister said “all grain shipments coming from Ukraine to Hungary by road and rail are checked and only transit traffic vehicles are allowed to pass” as of Tuesday.
The ban applies to “some agricultural products” in Poland. Slovakia said its law covers “food raw materials and products”.
The former Latvian foreign minister and EU agricultural commissioner, Sandra Kalniete MEP, criticised the ban as a “move in favour of Russia”.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union agreed to provide “temporary full trade liberalisation”. That extended an existing EU-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement to all areas including agricultural goods.
The temporary regulation is currently due to expire in June.
Before the war, Ukraine’s main trading route was by ship. Whilst the Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed some wheat exports to continue, all other exports must now travel overland through eastern Europe.
Earlier this year, the EU acknowledged that “increased imports of cereals and oilseeds” from Ukraine were causing “economic loss”.
The European Commission released €56.3 million to aid farmers in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria last month.
It is understood five EU member states sent a letter to Brussels last week warning again about the problems Ukrainian exports are causing for European farmers.
However, the blockade by Hungary, Poland and Slovakia may be illegal since trade policy is set at an EU level.
“Unilateral action is not possible”, said a spokesperson for the European Commission, adding that they are examining the laws.
Since the war started, 29 million tonnes of Ukrainian agricultural products, worth €25 billion, has been exported through the so-called EU solidarity lanes.
Perhaps with a view to defusing the row, the EU has now promised that it is working on a further aid package for Europe’s farmers.
Poland has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine until now. But it has elections coming up later this year which may be a factor as to why it is taking a hardline.
The lesson for Ukraine is that perhaps even its closest allies have a price.