The European Commission is looking into ways of allowing eastern EU member states to restrict farm imports from Ukraine as it extends trade liberalisation with Kyiv for a further year to June 2025.
The EU has suspended import duties, quotas and trade defence measures for imports from Ukraine since June 2022 to support its economy after Russia's invasion. However, cheap Ukrainian grain exports have sparked protests by governments, farmers and truckers in neighbouring countries such as Poland and Hungary.
EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the Commission was about to present a proposal for the new period to June 2025, taking into account the sensitivities of agricultural sectors in eastern member states of the bloc.
The existing arrangement does include safeguards but these only apply if the whole EU market is affected.
"We're looking at the best ways to do it, including the possibility of having the safeguards not only in the case of disturbances to the EU market as a whole, but also in case of disturbances in a single member state or a few member states," Dombrovskis told reporters before a meeting of EU ministers on trade.
The EU trade chief said the Commission was looking into how to safeguard the most sensitive products, adding he had discussed the issue with the agriculture ministers of Poland and Hungary in the past 24 hours.
One EU diplomat said the plan would allow affected EU members to take action quickly for an initial four months, subject to a Commission assessment within three weeks. Ukraine would also be encourage to align more with EU standards.
Earlier Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the influx of cheap Ukrainian grain had "ruined" central European markets.
"We have banned the import of Ukrainian grain and some agricultural products... We would like to maintain that measure... We would like to come back to the original agreement which was to secure transit for Ukrainian grain," he said.
Until mid-September last year, the EU had allowed five countries - Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia - to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, while allowing them to transit for export elsewhere.