Hungary signals national ban on Ukrainian grain imports beyond Sept. 15

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary has agreed with Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria to bar Ukrainian grain imports to protect their markets if the European Union does not extend a ban that expires on Sept. 15, the Hungarian farm minister said on Wednesday.

However, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov told the Bulgarian state news agency before the start of a cabinet meeting that waiving the ban on imports from Ukraine would be desirable as it would reduce prices of basic foods.

“Let us be clear – the resumption of imports from Ukraine will reduce the prices of basic foods, reduce inflation, which will help low-income people, and increase budget revenues from imports and exports,” Denkov was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday, a parliamentary committee adopted a draft decision for Bulgaria to lift the ban on Ukrainian imports of certain products after Sept. 15. The final decision is to be taken in the plenary session of parliament.

Slovakia’s government confirmed it would uphold the ban.

“The government is prepared, if the (European) Commission does not do so (extend the ban), to adopt a ban on imports at an extraordinary session, in the same mode as now,” Farm Minister Jozef Bires said.

“You have already seen from the announcements from Poland and Hungary that these countries will apply unilateral restrictions, and from this point of view we must do so too, because Slovakia would face increased transport (of grain) through Slovakia, and this grain could also stay in Slovakia.”

Romania’s farm ministry said it would make a decision after the Commission has its say. “What is certain is that if the ban is not extended, we have solutions to enforce that will protect our farmers,” it said in a statement.

Ukraine has become entirely dependent on alternative EU export routes, called Solidarity Lanes, for its grain exports since Russia in July abandoned a year-old deal that had allowed Ukrainian grains to be shipped safely via its Black Sea ports.

As a result, farmers in neighbouring states – Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia – have faced increased competition and bottlenecks in their own markets.

Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 18 months ago, has said it will only return to the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal if its conditions for export of its own grain and fertilisers are met.

Istvan Nagy, Hungary’s agriculture minister, said in a Facebook post that its new national ban would apply to a wider range of Ukrainian products than current measures.

“We have agreed with my Romanian, Slovak and Bulgarian colleagues that if there is no decision on the extension of the existing moratorium by Brussels, then we will take national measures individually,” Nagy said in a video message.

The Commission announced “temporary preventive measures” in May that would ban such sales into Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia while allowing transit to non-EU markets, mainly in Africa. These measures are due to expire on Friday.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than, Jan Lopatka and Luiza Ilie; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes)