EU plans to impose tariffs on grain imports from Russia, Belarus

Russia warns European consumers will ‘suffer’ if proposal goes ahead and calls it example of ‘unfair competition’.

Polish farmers
Polish farmers demonstrate against low-priced Ukrainian grain imports in Warsaw, Poland, on March 6, 2024 [Wojtek Radwanski/AFP]

The European Commission is planning to impose tariffs on imports of grain from Russia and Belarus in an attempt to prevent the two countries from distorting EU markets and placate farmers who have protested for months over cheap imports.

The tariffs are also designed to limit Russia’s ability to fund its war in Ukraine and sell grain stolen from Ukraine, the commission said.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the move would prevent Russia from destabilising the European Union market with its exports as leaders from the 27-nation bloc prepared to close out a two-day summit on Friday.

“We propose the imposition of tariffs on these Russian imports to mitigate the growing risk to our markets and our farmers,” von der Leyen said.

“They will reduce Russia’s capacity to exploit the EU for the benefit of its war machine. And we maintain our commitment to preserving global food security, especially for developing countries.”

The Kremlin on Friday warned the EU against imposing duties on its grain exports.

“Consumers in Europe would definitely suffer,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the proposal and called it “another clear example of unfair competition”.

Russia has many alternative export markets other than the EU for its grain, he added.

Imports of cereals, oilseeds and derived products from Russia and Belarus are just about 1 percent of the overall size of the EU market, with domestic suppliers providing the bulk.

But with angry farmers already worried by the increase of cheap Ukrainian imports, the EU fears Russia will be encouraged to take advantage of the tense situation to further destabilise the bloc.

The commission said the “shortfall is expected to be partially filled by imports from third countries which traditionally supply the EU market, such as the US, Brazil, Ukraine, Serbia or Argentina”.

EU imports of cereals, oilseeds and other products from Russia including wheat, maize and sunflower meal were 4.2 million metric tonnes in 2023, worth 1.3 billion euros ($1.4bn). EU suppliers provide 300 million metric tonnes per year.

The commission said there was a risk imports could increase, given overall Russian wheat exports had risen to 50 million tonnes from the usual 35 million tonnes.

It was not immediately clear what the value of the proposed tariffs would be, but the commission said they are designed to be high enough to discourage Russian imports.

Under the plan, the duties would either be 95 euros ($103) per metric tonne or increase prices by at least 50 percent.

Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of grain and is the biggest wheat harvester. Much of it destined for Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan.

The EU was one of Russia’s main trade partners before its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukraine, also one of the biggest grain exporters, had previously accused Russia of stealing thousands of tonnes of grain in Russian-occupied areas of the country and shipping the produce out of Crimea to trade around the world.

In support of Ukraine, the EU has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia. The measures have targeted the energy sector, banks, the world’s biggest diamond mining company and other businesses. The bloc has also subjected Russian officials to asset freezes and travel bans.

Source: News Agencies