EU deal to clear grain glut unravels amid acrimony

BRUSSELS — An agreement was reached just over a week ago between the EU executive and the bloc̵7;s eastern border states to relieve a massive grain glut, and with it, the bloc to support Ukraine in Russia’s war of aggression. unity of

april 28 deal There were essentially two elements: the first was a temporary ban on Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seed imports that would allow some relief for the Group of Five Eastern countries – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania – to clear the backlog. to clean .

The second was to facilitate the transit of Ukrainian products across the territory of the five countries, thereby enabling continued shipments to third countries – particularly those in the Global South that have faced supply disruptionAnd increased appetiteAs a result of Russia’s invasion last year and the blockade of Ukraine’s main Black Sea export route.

Poland has led calls to distribute the surplus as humanitarian aid: “Maybe we can even cooperate with the United Nations agencies, maybe we can cooperate with the World Food Programme,” the European Union in Warsaw said. Ambassador Andrzej Sadosh told POLITICO.

There’s just one problem with that idea, EU officials counter: millions of tons of grain piled up in the region’s warehouses are unsuitable for human consumption.

“The argument that it would be needed for food aid should be taken with a very large grain of salt,” a commission official told POLITICO. “You might even call it treacherous.”

An EU diplomat, requesting anonymity to allow him to speak candidly, was equally scathing of the behavior of Poland’s right-wing government, which wants shore up the agriculture vote This decline is due before the general election.

“Polish representatives use blackmailing tactics,” said the diplomat, referring to Warsaw’s move to block the separate, but unrelated, finalization of a long-awaited accord. Cooperation Agreement with African Countries and finalizing a package of sanctions against Belarus, which has sided with Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the war.

“This episode has caused a lot of bad blood and will have a psychological and political impact on cohesion within the EU when it comes to supplies to Ukraine.”

not of interest

An internal analysis by the commission found that the bulk of the stockpile was only suitable as animal feed – and not for distribution by the World Food Programme, which usually buys high-quality wheat for milling and processing it into flour. Distributes as food aid. ,

“Most of the grains available for export in 5 [Member States] are feed grains that are not of interest to the WFP,” said the document seen by POLITICO. “Additionally, we have to be careful in our political narrative and actions to avoid exporting feed-quality grains to countries in need.” to avoid the allegation of

A Polish spokesman said that of the 4 million tonnes of surplus of grain and oilseeds, about 2.5 million metric tonnes were for feed.

The analysis also found that WFP generally does not buy maize, of which about 8.7 million tonnes is kept in five eastern EU countries. Rapeseed and sunflower seeds were also not commonly procured by the WFP, the document said.

A WFP spokesperson declined to comment.

moral hazard

The commission official made it clear that commodity speculators seeking to profit from a rise in food prices following Russia’s invasion in February 2024, only to be caught, should not expect to be bailed out at the expense of European taxpayers.

“This risks business. And these are not practices that should be given European support,” the official said. between 1.5 billion and €3 billion.

United Nations analysis last year supports This argument, suggesting that the Russian invasion led to “excessive speculation” on commodity markets, with traders disrupting Black Sea supply routes, caused global grain prices to skyrocket.

A Ukrainian official and an EU diplomat told Politico that Romanian authorities were blocking shipments of Ukrainian grain into its Black Sea waters, raising concerns on Friday that a weeks-old deal to ban imports could undermine Eastern Was not allowing transit to EU states. The port of Constanța cited a new EU rule banning storage in its territory.

However, a Romanian source with knowledge of the matter denied that transit shipments had been intercepted. “Transit is running fine. And that’s not a problem,” the source said in response to a Politico inquiry.

Additional reporting by Bartosz Brzezinski, Sarah Anne Arup and Susanna Savage.