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EU Council pushes ahead on Ukraine trade benefits while MEPs push for more farming safeguards

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The EU Council endorsed the Commission’s proposal on the renewal of trade liberalisation with Ukraine with no changes, as MEPs from the Parliament’s agriculture committee instead side with farmers by pushing for more safeguards. 

Today (Wednesday 21 February), EU ambassadors gave their nod to the measures.

“The proposal from the Commission was widely supported, with the exception of the ‘frontline’ member states,” an EU diplomat told Euractiv. The member states concerned are Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia – the most affected by the impact of commodities imports. 

However, the diplomat said, the safeguard measures introduced by the Commission to limit imports seen as disrupting the EU market were seen as “a significant improvement”. 

The EU executive proposed a mechanism to stabilise imports in the sectors considered most sensitive – poultry, eggs and sugar – if inflows exceed the average levels in 2022-23.

The proposal also includes an emergency brake that would allow the Commission to impose “any measure which is necessary” if Ukrainian imports of any product “adversely affect” the bloc’s market.

The ambassadors approved the measures and the mandate to negotiate with the European Parliament to have them fixed in legislation. 

Pushing for more

The members of the Agriculture Committee (AGRI) at the European Parliament tabled 127 amendments, the key ones revolving around products covered by the safeguard measures and their threshold. The MEPs will vote on Monday evening. 

Several amendments are pushing to include Ukrainian honey and cereals into the list of sensitive imports, others are extending the safeguard measures to all products with the possibility of using part of the €50 billion Ukraine Facility mechanism to purchase and stock foods destined for third countries. 

As the Commission is proposing the exceeding of the average import levels in 2022-23 as a trigger for reinforced safeguard measures, amendments suggest including in the calculation 2021, i.e. the pre-war trade data. 

This goes in line with the demands of six associations representing farmers: Copa and Cogeca, the poultry processors and traders in the EU, the sugar manufacturers, the maize producers, the beet growers, and the union of wholesalers of eggs poultry and game.

However, it is not clear how many of these proposals will be taken up by the European Parliament’s trade committee (INTA), which is responsible for the file, and will vote on March 7. 

Eastern Europe not backing down

Eastern Europe is the hotspot of the protests, with Slovakian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Latvian and Czech farmers coordinating with the Poles to take to the streets on Thursday (22 February). 

Protests on the Polish-Ukrainian border escalated on Tuesday (20 February) with a near-total blockade, leading Kyiv to call on the European Commission to take action. 

To date, several unilateral bans on Ukrainian products remain in place in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro/Nathalie Weatherald]

Read more with Euractiv

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