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Ukraine Grain Conflict Divides EU... Again

© AFP 2023 / SERGEI SUPINSKYA combine harvester gathers grain from a field in Ukraine (file).
A combine harvester gathers grain from a field in Ukraine (file). - Sputnik International, 1920, 13.09.2023
Eastern and Central European states want to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain supplies despite Kiev's protests and threats to complain to the WTO. What’s behind the new scandal brewing within the EU?
Warsaw urged the European Union to prolong its embargo on Ukrainian food imports, including corn, wheat, sunflower and rapeseed, this September 12.
As per Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, if the European Commission refuses to lend its sympathetic ear, "we will do it ourselves because we cannot allow for a deregulation of the market."
The following day, Hungary announced that it had agreed with Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria to prohibit Ukrainian grain imports to shield their markets if the EU opts to not extend the ban.

Fair-Weather Friends?

Most of the aforementioned states previously signaled their support for the Kiev regime, with some, especially Poland, either sending weapons or providing training to Ukrainian troops.

However, "Friends are friends and interests are interests," Gilbert Doctorow, an international relations and Russian affairs analyst, told Sputnik. "When faced with elections, politicians begin to listen to their voters. In Poland the elections come next month. For the other countries at the outer limit their national parliamentary elections come less than nine months from now. The farming communities of all these countries are furious about Ukrainian grain ruining their domestic markets by underpricing. Hence the government measures to protect their farmers against Ukrainian grain."

In May, a group of Eastern European states – Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania – struck a deal with Brussels to impose a ban on grain produced by Ukraine from April until September 15 to protect their domestic producers.
Brussels lifted all tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian agricultural products into the bloc’s 27 member states last year, justifying the move by the necessity to facilitate its transit around the world, including to Africa. However, it later turned out that most cheap Ukrainian grain remained stuck in the Old Continent, sending commodity prices down. What's more, an Austrian newspaper reported in February that Ukrainian wheat was allegedly used as "feed for pigs" in Spain, instead of being transferred to poor countries of the Global South.
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Will Ukraine's Threats to Turn to WTO Work?

Meanwhile, the Kiev regime stated that it may turn to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a possible embargo on Ukrainian grain.
"In case of violation of trade law in the interest of political populism before the elections, Ukraine will be forced to turn to WTO arbitration to obtain compensation for violation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) norms," Kiev's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal tweeted on September 12.
Shmyhal insisted that Ukraine was fulfilling all its obligations under the Association Agreement with the EU and WTO rules.
"This threat sounds good but is useless," Doctorow remarked. "The WTO has been stripped of its effective powers of adjudicating trade disputes because of the US' refusal to allow the appointment of judges needed to man the courts. The US has sabotaged the WTO."
What's more, "the EU will be utterly unable to force these countries to follow its rules on passage of Ukrainian grain across the borders," according to the foreign affairs analyst. He expects that the Eastern European countries' dissent and Brussels' inability to coerce them into submission would mean serious reputational damage for the EU leadership.
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Will EU Divisions Grow?

Does it mean a new split within EU ranks? Per Doctorow, divisions have been brewing inside the bloc for quite a while and the situation is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.
"The EU is split already. Hungary, as we know, opposes the [anti-Russia] sanctions. Slovakia, depending on which way the coming elections go, may join Hungary against the sanctions. And on agricultural matters, the French farmers are loudly protesting against the Ukrainian chicken meat that is flooding their market at prices half those of French producers," Doctorow said.
To complicate matters further, the ghost of recession is continuing to haunt the Eurozone. According to Dow Jones, European business activity further contracted during August, reaching its lowest level since November 2020. Ukraine's botched counteroffensive raises questions as to how long EU member states will need to keep their belts tightened. Against this backdrop, the dissent of Eastern and Central European players appears to be the tip of the larger iceberg.
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