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Slovakia has said it will drop a ban on grain imports from Ukraine, bowing to EU demands and agreeing a preliminary deal with Kyiv on a licensing system.
The agreement leaves Poland and Hungary as the only countries defying the EU to restrict Ukrainian grain imports, in a stand-off that has divided the bloc as it seeks to support Ukraine in repelling Russia’s invasion.
Slovakia’s restrictions on Ukrainian grain will remain in place until the new system is launched, its agriculture ministry said on Thursday. In return, Kyiv will remove Slovakia from a trade complaint filed this week with the World Trade Organization.
Talks between Kyiv and Warsaw, however, have not so far yielded a deal, and Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday said the country would pull back from sending weapons to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s agriculture minister Mykola Solskyi said on Thursday he had spoken with his Polish counterpart Robert Telus and expected to hold further talks.
“The ministers discussed the situation, as well as Ukraine’s proposal for its settlement, and agreed to find a solution that takes into account the interests of both countries,” Solskyi said in a statement.
Telus welcomed the discussions but said Ukraine should start by dropping its WTO case.
“We are always ready for talks, but the interest of the Polish farmer is always the most important for us,” Telus said. “That’s why I’m glad that Ukraine has finally started talking with us. With us, not with Germany or the European Union over our heads.”
The tensions over grain came after Brussels on Friday agreed with Kyiv to lift a temporary ban on Ukrainian grain that was first announced in May, aiming to prevent the country’s products from flooding the markets of its neighbours.
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has diverted more grain exports through land routes across borders with its western neighbours because of Moscow’s blockade of its Black Sea ports.
Under the latest agreement with the EU, Ukraine said it would put in place an export control system to prevent surges of cheaper grain into the bloc. But that did not prevent Poland, Slovakia and Hungary from imposing unilateral bans, which Ukraine then challenged before the WTO.
Romania and Bulgaria, two other EU nations that took measures earlier this year to prevent a Ukrainian grain glut, did not join the latest Polish-led restrictions.
The leaders of Poland and Ukraine have exchanged sharp words over the past week, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy accusing “some in Europe” of “turning grain into a thriller” and suggesting that they had played into Russia’s hands.
Slovakia has struck a more conciliatory note. Its agriculture minister, Jozef Bíreš, held online talks with his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday to avoid “even hints of a lawsuit or restrictions on bilateral trade”, Bíreš said.
During their talks on Wednesday, Bíreš asked that Ukraine drop its WTO litigation against Slovakia and remove threats to retaliate with a ban on Slovak exports. Solskyi “promised to stop these steps”, the Slovak agriculture ministry said.
Solskyi also spoke on Wednesday with his Hungarian counterpart, István Nagy. The Ukrainian minister later said “Hungary continues to analyse the situation regarding the export of Ukrainian agricultural products and will study the action plan provided by Ukraine”.
The European Commission said it had received Ukraine’s plan, which included a verification system, and was examining it.
“When this is [in place] we see no need to have unilateral bans,” said commission spokeswoman Miriam Garcia Ferrer. She warned that Brussels could launch legal proceedings against countries that continued the bans, leading to fines.
Additional reporting by Barbara Erling in Warsaw and Andrew Bounds and Alice Hancock in Brussels