EU faces call to continue Ukrainian grain imports ban in central Europe

WARSAW (Reuters) -Five central European countries want a European Union ban on Ukrainian grains imports to be extended at least until the end of the year, ministers said on Wednesday, with Poland threatening to keep borders closed if Brussels does not agree.

The EU in May allowed Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, while permitting transit of such cargoes for export elsewhere. The ban is set to end on September 15.

The countries include some of Kyiv’s staunchest diplomatic supporters in its war against Moscow, but they say inflows of Ukrainian grain have hurt their farming sectors.

Solidarity with Ukraine is important but national grain markets must be protected, Slovakia’s agriculture minister said after a meeting of central European agriculture ministers in Warsaw.

The collapse of a deal allowing Black Sea exports from Ukraine this week could lead to increased grains flows and bottlenecks, the countries fear.

Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said the five countries signed a common declaration regarding the extension of the ban until at least the end of the year, which they will present in talks with the European Commission.

“But also in the agreement is our joint declaration that we are very open to transit,” Telus said, adding the EU should also consider long-term legal and infrastructural solutions as the issue of Ukrainian food exports would last for years.

The ministers have indicated they would also like an option where countries could individually ask the EU to add products to the ban list.

Poland will not lift the ban on September 15 even if the EU does not agree on its extension, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

Hungarian minister of Agriculture Istvan Nagy said that if there was no such agreement, Budapest would use “all measures to prevent further suffering of Hungarian farmers”.

(Reporting by Marek Strzelecki and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Boldizsar Gyori in Budapest, Robert Muller in Prague and Luiza Ilie in Bucharest; Editing by Peter Graff and Mike Harrison)