Commission slams Slovakia’s proposed restriction of grain, cereal exports

"We will only intervene if the balance sheets show us that it is really necessary," Slovakia's agriculture minister said. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Slovakia has tabled a proposal that would restrict agricultural commodities exports in light of the war in Ukraine, a move the European Commission has condemned, warning any bans of this nature could destabilise markets and lead to price increases.

To help cope with the fallout of the Ukraine war, Slovak MP Martin Fecko (OĽaNO) submitted a draft amendment to the Food Law to Parliament this week, which would regulate the export of basic food commodities.

This would mean all planned exports of food commodities with a volume of over 400 tonnes would have to be reported by the exporter to the Slovak state authorities, who would then assess whether the trade will cause a shortage of domestic food supply. This will mainly apply to cereals and oilseeds.

The proposal was also met with approval by Slovakia’s Minister of Agriculture, Samuel Vlčan, who specified that the state does not plan to introduce export quotas but only wants timely information about excessive exports of “whole trains of grain”.

“We will only intervene if the balance sheets show us that it is really necessary,” he added.

The move is the latest in a growing trend of protectionist stances taken after the outbreak of the war. For example, back in March, Hungary also moved to impose grain export restrictions.

EU foresees rise in grain exports to plug Ukrainian wheat global gap

In the next two years, the European Commission estimates a 30% increase in exports of cereals to mitigate the impact on global markets of the reduced Ukrainian yield due to the war.

Asked about the proposal, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that the EU executive “strongly advocate[s] to avoid export restrictions and export bans on food”.

“They destabilise markets and lead to price increases, which in turn affect the food security of net food-importing countries,” the spokesperson said, adding that this includes international fora like the World Trade Organisation.

The EU is also one of the co-signatories of a call for avoiding export restrictions on humanitarian purchases by the World Food Programme.

“In such challenging times, it is of utmost importance to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU and with our close partners,” the spokesperson said, adding that the EU has a “heavy responsibility to meet these challenges head-on and united”.

“The functioning of markets, inside the EU’s internal market but also globally, will be essential so that supplies can reach those that need it,” the spokesperson said, adding that any measures which restrict trade within the internal market must be limited to what is “necessary and be strictly proportionate”.

The spokesperson added that the Commission is currently looking into more details on this specific case.

Meanwhile, the proposal angered Slovak food producers.

In a press release, the largest agrarian association, SPPK, called the move an “extremely serious intervention in the business environment,” criticising the fact that it was not discussed with food producers in advance.

Besides not being permitted by EU law, they also argued that the proposal would also deepen Slovakia’s negative balance of foreign trade in agro-commodities.

“Do we really want Slovakia to become a country that is purely dependent on foreign food? This proposal is unworkable and confusing (…), and it is not at all certain whether this measure will guarantee the country’s food security,“ SPPK boss Emil Macho said. 

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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