Ukrainian farmers: winning elections not the same as winning a war
Today at midnight, Poland will once again open up its borders for the transportation of agricultural exports from Ukraine. The destination may not be Poland, the railway routes are only available for transit services. It is the latest update in a series of bans and restrictions of eastern european countries on agricultural produce from Ukraine. The topic became the center point of the discussion yesterday at the RailFreight Summit Poland, held in Warsaw.
On Sunday 15 April Poland and Hungary closed their borders for Ukrainian export products and on 17 April Slovakia followed suit. Albeit under different conditions, some still allowing for certain products to pass through, the policies all have the common aim of limiting the presence of Ukrainian crops on the market. According to respective politicians, it is harming the local farmers. However, the EU has installed solidarity paths for Ukrainian products in order to support the country’s economy during an ongoing war, a measure that is at least in place till 15 June this year.
A big misunderstanding?
“Let me explain what is happening here, as I am from Poland myself” Marcin Witczak, CEO of Laude Smart Intermodal started off at a panel discussion about Poland-Ukraine rail connections. “There are two things at play: misunderstanding and elections. There is a misconception about the destination of the grain from Ukraine. If Poland was the end destination indeed, it would create a problem for local farmers, but this is not the case. 95 per cent of the grain leaves the country, and is only on transit through Poland.”
The problem is, he continued, that these statistics are not officially available. “There is no transit declaration needed for these products. Once in Poland, the products from Ukraine are bundled with products from Poland before they continue by train to their final destination. So in theory these grains stay in Poland, but in reality they don’t.”
Added to this are the price fluctuations of agricultural products since the war started. Farmers in the EU blame the presence of Ukrainian products for the drop in price, but this is another misconception, says Witczak. “These price fluctuations are due to the war in general. Ukraine is not to blame.”
These misunderstandings and unstable economy lead to frustration and this in turn leads to nervous politicians in Poland, just a few months before the elections are taking place. “The ban on Ukrainian products is just a political decision”, he concludes.
Farmers are in war situation
It is exactly what angers the Ukrainian Agri Council, which represents the Ukrainian farmers. Head of the council Andriy Dikun, who attended the panel discussion online, started off with the compelling words “winning the elections is not the same as winning the war”. The import ban on Ukrainian agricultural produce has impacted the export volumes by 20 per cent. This is a huge impact on people that are already in a bad situation, he emphasised.
I ask everyone to look at the situation from the perspective of Ukrainian farmers. Many of them are in jail. Some are living in occupied territories. Many of these farmers do not even have the chance to restart their business. For the people that do, they are facing huge logistics challenges, such as the rising prices of services.”
“We don’t understand what is happening, we were surprised”, he continues. The solidarity lanes are very important to us. With the favorable customs regime we can move much faster. This is vital for farmers.” The Ukrainian Agri Council has asked the EU to lift the ban in several countries. “The decision to open up the Polish border for transit is good news, this helps the farmers a lot”, he concluded.
The Polish decision comes with a lot of questions too, though. It results in new issues, as forwarders are having a hard time understanding the rules, which are changing all the time, said Edvins Berzins, President of the Ukrainian Logistics Alliance.
Aleksandra Adamska from PKP LHS agrees. Her company has been operating the sole broad gauge railway line that extends into Poland for years. This line runs through the Izov-Hrubieszów rail border crossing, a border that closed for Ukrainian grain at the end of February. “There are around 3000 wagons waiting at the border to enter Poland”, she says.
“We need to know what needs to be done for the transit of these products. Currently, there is no need for veterinary inspections for products that are in transit and customs procedures are relatively easy. But we need to know if this is still the case under the new rules.”
“I am not quite sure if I understand the reasons or the measures”, adds Timofey Murakhovskyy from Ukrainian Railways. “Eggs and milks are also restricted. I don’t understand this. Half an hour ago our ministry of infrastructure and agriculture started a meeting where they will discuss the instruments to deliver cargo to Poland. Some decisions will be made, I believe.”
When you ask the Polish rail freight industry, the transit of Ukrainian products is welcome. There is enough capacity on the railway network and at the border, says Adamska. “We have the capacity and our partner terminals have sufficient capacity to store and reload the cargo. We are ready to handle these transports.”
Since the war, the overland possibilities between the countries have only increased. “Customs and border operations have improved during the war”, says Murakhovskyy, “and so have the volumes of cargo on rail. Currently, we have much more cargo to load on the rails than the borders of Europe can handle. I hope that we have not reached the end of improvements, a lot more can be done.”
More news from the summit:
- Polish ministry to invest 800 million euros in Malaszewicze
- RailFreight Summit Poland 2023 kicks off
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