Thousands of farmers protested across Romania on Friday over the impact of Ukrainian grain imports on prices, blocking traffic and border checkpoints with tractors and trucks and urging the European Commission to intervene.
Anger is rising among farmers in Central and Eastern Europe over a flood of cheap Ukrainian grain imports, exempt from customs fees until June 2024, which have hurt prices and sales of local producers.
Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, had its Black Sea ports blocked following Russia’s February 2022 invasion and found alternative shipping routes through European Union states Poland and Romania, helped by “solidarity lanes” supported by the EU.
But millions of tonnes of grain — cheaper than those produced in the EU — ended up in neighboring countries, propelled by logistical bottlenecks and lesser distances.
Polish Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk resigned from his post this week. Polish and Bulgarian farmers have also held protests.
In the capital Bucharest on Friday, about 200 farmers protested outside the European Commission’s local headquarters, carrying banners that read: “We respected EU rules but EU ignored us”, “You can no longer pass through here,” and “Stability for Romanian farmers”.
Across the country, thousands of farmers used tractors, trucks, and other machinery to block roads and borders.
“We are talking about unfair competition in the European community,” said Nicu Vasile, the head of the League of Romanian Associations of farm producers (LAPAR).
“I know our Ukrainian colleagues also need to sell, but it is unfair competition, however.”
Vasile said production costs of wheat have risen 70% on the year to 6,000 lei ($1,326) per hectare.
The commission has estimated farmers from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia have lost 417 million euros ($455 million) overall from the inflows of cheaper Ukrainian grains. It decided to hand out compensation worth 56.3 million euros to Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian farmers, with more to come.
“It’s a concrete measure, but the sums are small, it is true,” Romanian Farm Minister Petre Daea said on Friday. The ministry will double the amount given to Romania.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he expected decisions to be announced in the coming days and weeks to alleviate anger among Polish farmers. Six prime ministers in the region have asked the commission to intervene.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters