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Polish farmers block Ukraine border in grain import protest

February 20, 2024

Farmers have interrupted transport of Ukrainian produce entering Poland, claiming unfair competition from cheaper goods. Meanwhile, tractors blocked city streets and major highways across the country.

Tractors wave polish flags
Farmers also protested in Polish cities, like these tractors blocking a road in KrakowImage: Jakub Porzycki/Anadolu/picture alliance

Polish farmers gathered at the border with Ukraine on Tuesday, blocking the crossing and spilling grain on the tracks in protest against the import of Ukrainian produce.

Farmers are arguing that Ukraine's cheaper goods present unfair competition in the Polish market.

Farmers blocked some 100 roads leading to the Ukrainian border and forcibly opened two Ukrainian railcars at the Medyka crossing.

"A small amount of grain was discovered spilt on the tracks," a spokeswoman for the local police in Medyka told the French AFP news agency.

Protesting farmers also drove their tractors through Gdansk, Krakow and other cities.

"I'm here to get rid of the restrictions introduced by the European Union regarding fallow land, the Green Deal and above all to stop Ukrainian food flowing in," Tomasz Golak, who runs an animal and cereal farm in a nearby village, told AFP.

"This year wheat is selling for half the price it did last year," he added.

Elsewhere in Poland, farmers drove their tractors through Gdansk, Krakow and other cities, honking their horns in the noisy protest. 

A highway blocked with tractors
Farmers block the highway linking Warsaw and Lublin Image: Sergei Gapon/AFP

Why Polish farmers oppose Ukrainian produce

Polish roads have served as an export lifeline to Ukrainian grain and produce since Russia's 2022 invasion disrupted major trading routes through the Black Sea.

However, Polish farmers have complained that Ukrainian goods are produced more cheaply as they don't have to follow conditions imposed by the EU, of which Poland is a member.

Last year, the bloc temporarily imposed restrictions on the domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, allowing Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to ban the products' sale.

After the ban expired last September, Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, extended the ban on grain imports from their war-torn neighbor.

In a statement condemning Tuesday's protests and the subsequent attack on Ukrainian railcars, Ukraine's state railway company stressed it "strictly adheres" to the Polish ban on grain cargoes.

It added that all the produce at the border had been checked by Polish authorities, making it "impossible for Ukrainian grain to enter the Polish market."

Farmers, however, argue that Ukrainian grain transiting through the country may still leak into the domestic market.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the protesting farmers in his Monday evening address as an "erosion of solidarity."

What's behind Poland's row with Ukraine?

Wider, EU-focused farmer protests

Farmers have held crippling protests this year in EU member states including France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany.

Farmers argue their pay is inadequate and that taxes and environmental regulations are suffocating them, claiming they face unfair competition from abroad.

Polish farmers are especially angry at the EU for waiving quotas and duties for imports from Ukraine since Russia's invasion. 

They are also protesting against EU regulations including a requirement to leave 4% of farmland fallow, or not cultivating it for a period of time.

The EU's Green Deal is also widely controversial among European farmers. The deal plans to limit the use of chemicals and greenhouse gas emissions, which farmers worry could reduce production and consequently income.

Farmers clash with police outside EU summit

rmt/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)