Croatia has informed Ukraine that it does not want to expose its domestic farmers to competition from Ukrainian grain, according to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. In a statement to local media, Plenkovic said, “Croatia’s stance and desire is that we are a transit country, not a country receiving enormous amounts of Ukrainian grain that is cheaper than ours, which would mean our farmers are in trouble.” Plenkovic made these comments in response to the escalating protectionism spat between Ukraine and some of its EU neighbors.
The dispute began when three of Ukraine’s neighbors, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, imposed bans on imports of Ukrainian grain. Although a previous restriction approved by the EU expired last Friday, these three countries chose to unilaterally extend the ban. In response, Ukraine has filed a complaint against them with the World Trade Organization.
Romania, one of the five EU nations that pushed for the temporary import ban, has indicated that it would also reimpose the restrictions if Ukrainian grain threatens its market again. Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu has stated that he reached a gentlemen’s agreement with Kiev that “not a single gram of grain” would be imported into Romania from Ukraine. Bulgaria, another country subject to the ban, said that Ukraine has promised that its exports will not cause trouble again.
When asked if Croatia could follow the example set by Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, Plenkovic emphasized his nation’s role as a transit country. Ukrainian grain flows through Croatia, using Croatian ports on the Danube River and the Adriatic Sea. The route through the Danube has become more important for Ukraine since Russia pulled out of the Türkiye- and UN-mediated grain deal in July, revoking security guarantees for civilian maritime vessels traveling to and from Ukraine through the Black Sea. The Danube route is more profitable for Ukraine than hauling goods via the EU.
Russia, which left the grain deal after a year, claimed that the UN failed to fulfill its promise to provide relief from Western sanctions that hinder Russia’s ability to export grain and fertilizers.
It is clear that the protectionism spat between Ukraine and its EU neighbors is causing tensions and trade disruptions in the region. While some countries are imposing bans on Ukrainian grain to protect their domestic farmers, others, like Croatia, are avoiding direct competition with Ukrainian grain by positioning themselves as transit countries. Ukraine has responded by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, indicating that it is seeking resolution through international trade mechanisms. As the dispute continues, it remains to be seen how it will be resolved and what impact it will have on the agricultural sector in the region.