EU Policy. Free-trade with Ukraine extended for one year with safeguards for bloc’s farmers

The EU temporarily suspended all tariffs and quotas on Ukraine’s agricultural exports after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
The EU temporarily suspended all tariffs and quotas on Ukraine’s agricultural exports after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Copyright Hassan Ammar/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Hassan Ammar/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Lawmakers clinched a political deal on year long renewal of a free trade scheme with Ukraine adding ‘emergency brakes’ for sensitive agricultural commodities in the aftermath of farmers’ protests.

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The EU temporarily suspended all tariffs and quotas on Ukraine’s agricultural exports after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and subsequently renewed the suspension, which is now set to expire in June.

The trade liberalisation measure will now be extended up to 5 June 2025 if EU ministers and the European Parliament now green light a compromise reached this morning (20 March).

The automatic safeguard mechanism intended to protect specific domestic sectors from increased imports arising as a result of the free trade scheme was a key contention in negotiations between MEPs and the Belgian presidency of the EU Council.

Lawmakers agreed to extend safeguards beyond wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, sugar, poultry, and eggs – originally proposed by the commission in January – to also include honey, maize, oats, and hulled grains.

In practice, the commission will be allowed to reintroduce tariff-rate quotas if imports of these commodities exceed the arithmetic mean of quantities imported in 2022 and 2023.

The time frame required for the commission’s response to trigger the emergency brake was also shortened from three to two weeks in case imports surge.

“Russia's targeting of Ukraine and its food production also impacts EU farmers,” said parliament’s rapporteur Sandra Kalniete (Latvia/EPP), adding that the sector's concerns had been listened to in relation to the bolstered safeguard measures.

After the political deal, the clock is running to approve the new measures so that they can take effect immediately following the expiry of the previous suspension.

EU ambassadors were expected to greenlight the outcome of the inter-institutional talks as soon as today (20 Wednesday) but ultimately postponed the vote as member states needed more time to assess the text agreed, according to a Council source.

Different diplomatic sources contacted by Euronews confirmed that a minority block is threatening to torpedo the agreement and pushing back the vote was necessary to avoid a rejection of the compromise today.

On the other hand, parliament’s committee on international trade (INTA) rubberstamped the agreement in the afternoon, despite some political groups wanting to wait for member states' next move. 

"We know that the Council might not be going ahead with this. This is a risk for us, but we will give a clear signal to the people in Ukraine," said the committee chair Bernd Lange (Germany/S&D).

If the EU Council approves the text as agreed during the talks, MEPs could then give their final go-ahead to the trade scheme in the parliament's last plenary in April.

Asked to comment about the possibility that the political deal could collapse, EU trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said on Wednesday that discussions are ongoing and “there is a high probability that these support measures will be adopted in the nearest future”

"As far as I understand, the discussions in the council will only take place in future. I would not like to rush ahead," he added.

This story has been updated with the latest developments.

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