In a somewhat paradoxical turn of events, the war in Ukraine has spurred intensive political battles between Ukraine and some allies over wheat exports—but Serbia, which has attempted to play a neutral role during the war, is now dealing with a surplus of corn and sunflower, primarily do to logistics issues brought on by the war.
Serbia will face a surplus of 2.5 mln tonnes of corn this year, according to the Serbian Grains Association, as cited by Ekapija.com. Likewise, there is still 1. 2 mln tonnes of wheat from the previous year, 350,000 tonnes of corn and 55,000 tonnes of sunflower—amounts that the head of the association, Suncica Savovic said were attributable to a market that was overcome by Ukrainian exports as well as a ban on exports in 2022.
But once again, Serbia is not alone, with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia banning Ukrainian grain—which has once again prompted harsh words from Ukraine and Poland both, and which has now prompted threats of a lawsuit from Kyiv, which believes that the bans are illegal.
The Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian bans have been put unilaterally in place in order to protect local farmers from an export surge—but in Poland the ban clearly also comes from political pragmatism, as the Law-and-Justice (PiS) party has long curried the agro vote and sees it as key to winning a parliamentary majority in upcoming elections to be held on Aug. 15.
Yet there are other paradoxes at play. Ukraine’s harvest, while still super-power level in agriculture, has been increasingly hampered by the war, land mines and Black Sea logistical issues, thanks to Russian military efforts, sea mines and drones. Meanwhile, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have flown in the face of a European Community decision to open up Ukrainian grain sales in the EU.
This latter point will hardly endear Poland and Hungary, especially, to the EU, as both have butted heads with the EU and EC for years on a wide variety of points.
And finally there is the very real gripe from Poland that Ukraine would like to have it both ways, bearing in mind that Poland has taken in millions of Ukrainians, supplied weapons and harangued the EU for Ukrainian support–especially in the wake of harsh words from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who likened the grain debate to a “thriller” and stated that some were preparing the “scene for an actor from Moscow.”
This rankled Polish politicians and, quite likely, PiS’s constituency, which likely is less inclined toward Ukraine due to historical reasons going back to the Second World War.
Yet the grain issue is not limited to only Poland, as is also proven by Serbia’s agro sector. The sudden and somewhat desperate pumping of grain toward EU markets is seen as key for Ukraine to bring in much needed revenue to support the war—yet at the same time, directing the entire market toward the EU was something that the EU itself likely never saw as in the cards.
And clearly Serbia did not either.
Photo of Ukrainian farmer by IAEA Imagebank, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.