Europe wants to tax Russian grain to “dry up” Moscow’s revenues

(Brussels) Brussels proposed on Friday to impose “prohibitive” customs duties on Russian agricultural products imported into the European Union (EU), which are currently exempt to the great dismay of European farmers, with a view to “drying up » income allowing Moscow to finance its war in Ukraine.

“We have seen these imports increase considerably in 2023. These prohibitive customs duties will make them commercially unviable”, preventing them from “destabilizing” the European market, said Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

“It will also help put an end to the Russian practice of illegally exporting stolen Ukrainian grain to the EU (…) and dry up an important source of income allowing (Moscow) to finance its war of aggression” against Ukraine, he stressed.

Agricultural products coming from Belarus, a close ally of Moscow, will also be targeted.

On the other hand, these high customs duties will not concern the transit via the EU of cereals and other agricultural products destined for third countries, for example in Africa or the Middle East, in order to “preserve global food security”, underlines the Commission. Fertilizers are also not targeted.

Russia exported a total of 4.2 million tonnes of cereals, oilseeds and derived products to the EU in 2023 (including 1.5 million tonnes for cereals alone), for a value of 1.3 billion euros. Volumes are much more limited for Belarus (610,000 tonnes, worth 246 million euros).

Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, most Russian agricultural products, including cereals, are so far exempt from customs duties in the EU, and the few taxed products are very lightly taxed. .

In the various sets of sanctions adopted against Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Europeans were careful not to target either the agricultural sector or fertilizers.

They feared destabilizing grain trade around the world and weakening the food security of countries in Asia and Africa, very dependent on Russian agricultural power.

“Sufficiently high”

“The new tariffs are designed to be high enough to discourage current imports. Depending on the specific product, they will increase either to 95 euros per tonne or to a 50% duty” depending on the product, explains the European executive.

In addition, Russia and Belarus “will no longer have access to WTO grain quotas granted by the EU, which offer better tariff treatment for certain products,” he adds.

This proposal, which comes against the backdrop of a movement of anger among farmers across Europe, will have to be ratified by a qualified majority of Member States, i.e. at least 15 countries representing 65% of the EU population – but will not require not the approval of MEPs.

An easier and faster process than the adoption of a total embargo, which would require the unanimity of the Twenty-Seven.

The current situation outraged Kyiv: “We note that, unfortunately, Russia’s access to the European agricultural market remains unlimited”, “without restrictions”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky further lamented on Thursday during a videoconference with the Twenty- Seven.

“When Ukrainian grain is thrown on the roads (by disgruntled Polish farmers, editor’s note), Russian and Belarusian products continue to be sent to Europe (…) It’s unfair,” he denounced.

For their part, the Czech Republic, Poland and the three Baltic states are calling for a complete ban on grain imports from Russia and Belarus.

“We consider it imperative to fulfill our moral obligation to block any activity that could potentially strengthen” Russia, the agriculture ministers of these five states declared earlier this week in a letter to the Commission consulted by AFP.

Last month, Latvia already banned the import of food products from Russia and Belarus.

The volumes of Russian cereals imported by the EU remain at least ten times lower than those imported from Ukraine, and constitute only a tiny part of European consumption.

However, European grain producers, particularly in France, are worried about seeing Russia drag down world prices and upset trade balances.

Encouraged by Kyiv’s difficulties in delivering its cereals and oilseeds, Moscow has in fact launched a vast commercial offensive in Africa and the Middle East, notably via highly publicized donations.


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