Bulgarian grain producers are preparing to block key roads in Sofia to pressure the government to change its position and ban agricultural imports from Ukraine.
Bulgarian grain producers say the state is not doing enough to help them cope with cheap Ukrainian imports and should ban imports of grain, vegetables, milk, honey and meat from the war-torn country. They want to pressure the government to force local production plants and biofuels to buy their production at prices about 15-20% higher than world markets.
“I don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov said on Saturday in response to the blocks, accusing grain producers of trying to shake the Euro-Atlantic government.
Among the initiators of the protests are farmers who are considered close to President Rumen Radev, who is against providing military aid to Kyiv.
Bulgarian grain producers cannot claim that the government does not care about them, given that subsidies from the EU and the Bulgarian state are over €1 billion, said Denkov, whose government pointed to the record profits of €1.25 billion producers made in 2022, with total sector revenues of €5 billion that year.
Speaking of the call from farmers to ban Ukrainian grain, Denkov said, “farmers cannot treat European requirements with disdain, given that the tractors with which they want to block the entire country were bought with European funds.”
“They cannot say that they are not interested in Europe, given that most of the funds they receive in the form of subsidies and aid are European,” he added, noting that they should refuse EU funds and then demand a ban on Ukrainian goods.
On Friday, the European Commission lifted a union-wide ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports, but Hungary, Poland and Slovakia announced they would impose unilateral bans.
While Denkov called on grain producers to find a way to negotiate, they are refusing.
For instance, the Bulgarian Farmers’ Union has come out with a position in which it “strongly condemned” Denkov’s position regarding the “terrorists”.
“Protests are a democratic means of expressing a position and protecting interests in every EU member country,” the farmers’ organisation commented.
Other farmers’ organisations have backed the grain producers’ protests, calling for a near-total ban on food imports from Ukraine. Despite benefiting from cheap feed imports from Ukraine, meat producers have joined the grain producers.
Some Bulgarian vegetable producers have also announced that they want a ban on imports from Ukraine, although Bulgaria imports almost none from there. Large quantities of fruit and vegetables are imported into Bulgaria from Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia and Poland.
The Bulgarian government has so far stood against the farmers’ demands and is proposing to start negotiations for financial compensation for the sector.
The ban on grain and food imports from Ukraine will seriously affect Bulgaria’s sunflower oil and biofuel producers, which account for several per cent of the country’s GDP. Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of sunflower oil and biofuels in the EU, and Bulgarian production is insufficient to fill its factories.
Blocking cheap food imports from Ukraine will also affect all Bulgarians through inflation, something the country is trying to reduce sharply to have a chance of joining the eurozone on 1 January 2025. This would be a major blow to pro-Russian political circles in Sofia.
(Krassen Nikolov | Euractiv.bg)
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