Agri co-ops say Ukraine trade remains a challenge despite new EU deal

‘EU producers and manufacturers will have to be included in this discussion and their demands answered in order to ensure a balanced outcome’

After MEPs voted to extend the suspension of import duties and quotas on Ukrainian agricultural products for another year, until 5 June 2025, agri co-op sector leaders say their concerns have not been fully addressed.

Regarded as a compromise, the extension was agreed by European institutions on 8 April. The Parliament approved it via a plenary vote on 23 April, with 428 votes in favour, 131 against and 44 abstentions.

The new rules, which follow weeks of negotiations between the Parliament and the European Council, enable the European Commission to “take swift action and impose any measures it deems necessary should there be significant disruption to the EU market or the markets of one or more EU member states due to Ukrainian imports”, such as wheat.

The Commission can also trigger an emergency brake for particularly sensitive agricultural products like poultry, eggs, sugar, oats, groats, maize, and honey; and re-impose tariffs if imports of these products surpass the average import volumes recorded in the second half of 2021 and all of 2022 and 2023.

“The extension of trade support measures reaffirms the EU’s solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression,” said Sandra Kalniete (European People’s Party Group, Latvia), the rapporteur for the file. “This vote will simultaneously strengthen the economic resilience of Ukraine and protect the interests of European farmers. We will keep our promises – we will support Ukraine until its military victory and accession to the EU and Nato.”

Co-operatives were quick to respond to the Parliament’s vote, arguing that while the agreement represents an improvement on previous Autonomous Trade Measures (ATMs) “it remains challenging for EU producers and manufacturers who will also scrutinise its proper implementation”.

In a joint statement with other apexes, Copa and Cogeca argued that attention should now shift to the revision of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU which will be governing the block’s trade relationship with Ukraine from 6 June 2025 onwards.

“EU producers and manufacturers will have to be included in this discussion and their demands answered in order to ensure a balanced outcome,” read the statement signed by Copa and Cogeca.

Copa and Cogeca welcomed the extension of the reference period to incorporate the latter half of 2021 as well as the inclusion of some additional products like oats and groats. But, they argue, the agreement falls short of addressing EU producers’ and manufacturers’ concerns.

“The imported volumes will remain significant and will continue to affect the markets,” said Copa and Cogeca. “Furthermore, no restrictions are planned for the hugely impacting cereals such as common wheat and barley. As such, the spotlight now turns to the renegotiation of the Association Agreement to ensure better protection for European producers and manufacturers and uphold standards against long-term effects.”

The two organisations add that EU farmers and manufacturers remain “ready to do their part” and show solidarity with Ukrainian farmers but expressed concerns over the “ substantial volumes” due to be exported to Europe, arguing they “will not be sustainable in the long term” since the standards of production and crop cultivation in Ukraine remaining lower than in the EU.

“For the survival of the EU’s sensitive sectors, it will be essential for European institutions to ensure that the revised Association Agreement will provide the necessary guarantees to preserve EU producers and manufacturers economic viability,” added the statement.

The new rules, which require formal approval by the European Council, will apply from 5 June 2024.