Polish farmers block roads in new Ukraine imports protest

Polish farmers block roads in new Ukraine imports protest

Polish farmers have staged regular protests against EU policies on climate measures and imports from outside the bloc
Polish farmers have staged regular protests against EU policies on climate measures and imports from outside the bloc. Photo: Wojtek Radwanski / AFP
Source: AFP

Polish farmers on Wednesday staged tractor blockades on roads nationwide in their latest protest against farm imports from outside the European Union, in particular Ukraine, and the bloc's environmental regulations.

The farmers have been blocking border crossings with Ukraine since last month to protest what they say is unfair competition from goods from Ukraine since a duty-free deal was announced by the EU in the wake of Russia's invasion.

Earlier this month they held a demonstration in the capital Warsaw attended by thousands that devolved into clashes with the police, with over two dozen people detained.

"Throughout the country today more than 580 protests are planned, with nearly 70,000 people estimated to take part," Polish police said in a statement.

The farmers are notably blocking access roads to Warsaw and other big cities including Wroclaw, Poznan and Bydgoszcz.

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"We are primarily fighting for the abolishment of the Green Deal," said one farmer, 57-year-old Slawomir Miesak, referring to the European Union's policies aimed at helping the bloc meet its climate goals.

"That's the priority. And we also want the closure of the border" with Ukraine, he told AFP while protesting in the town of Zakret outside Warsaw.

Money woes

Fellow protester Przemyslaw Galazka, 33, said money was an issue.

"How long can we produce at a loss? The past two years have been difficult but the price of grain remained more or less stable, whereas now every farmer is asking himself whether it makes sense to go out in the fields and sow," he told AFP.

Protesters also stalled traffic at the border with Ukraine on Wednesday.

"Farmers have blocked passenger traffic at the Medyka border crossing. They are only allowing one bus to pass every two hours," local police spokeswoman Joanna Golisz told AFP.

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Ukraine has seen its agriculture sector crippled by Russia's invasion in 2022, with many of its major export routes through the Black Sea blocked and swaths of farmland rendered unusable by the fighting.

In a bid to help Kyiv economically, the European Union quickly scrapped tariffs on Ukrainian goods transiting the 27-nation bloc by road.

But logistical problems mean large amounts of Ukrainian cereal exports destined for non-EU countries have accumulated in Poland, undercutting local producers.

On Wednesday, EU member states and lawmakers reached a deal to cap duty-free imports of some Ukrainian grains in response to the complaints by Polish and other EU farmers.

'Glimmer of hope'

Poland's Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski also signed a preliminary agreement with farmer representatives late Tuesday regarding planned subsidies, regulating trade relations with Ukraine and other provisions.

But the agreement was not enough to avert Wednesday's blockades.

"It's a small glimmer of hope that something will finally happen," said Roman Kondrow, one of the farming representatives who signed the document.

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He told AFP that two key problems remain: the issue of so-called technical wheat, which is not suited for food production and should not be continuing to pass through the border, and up to five million tonnes of surplus grain that should be removed from Poland.

The border blockades and grain dispute have strained ties between Warsaw and Kyiv, even as Poland has shown its neighbour staunch support since the Russian invasion.

Farmers in several other European countries have also been protesting for weeks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of tractor drivers carried out a slow-drive protest across the Czech Republic, and farmers blocked the Strazny border crossing with Germany for an hour.

The EU has come forward with propositions to revamp the bloc's subsidy programme, known as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), in a bid to assuage the farmers across the continent.

The proposed changes to the CAP still need to be negotiated between EU member states and the European Parliament.

Source: AFP

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