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New EU 'safeguards' to cap tariff-free Ukraine farm imports

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 1 ------ The EU said it plans to extend tariff-free entry for Ukrainian farm products for a year from June, but with "safeguards" to stop cheaper imports flooding the market at the expense of Europe's own farmers.

Grain imports from war-torn Ukraine have already caused a standoff with Poland and become a major source of anger for farmers around the European Union. The move from the European Commission comes as farmers in several EU countries stage roadblocks to demand better revenues and conditions. Its proposal allows for "quick remedial action... in case of significant disruptions to the EU market". For the most sensitive products -- poultry, eggs and sugar -- an "emergency brake" would be used to stabilise imports at the average volumes of 2022 and 2023. Brussels separately proposed another one-year exemption -- though a partial one -- from rules forcing farmers to leave a share of their lands fallow, imposed as part of the bloc's common agricultural policy and to promote biodiversity. The rules decreeing that four percent of land must be left unused -- also an ongoing gripe for European farmers -- were suspended in 2023 after Russia invaded Ukraine, to help offset the loss of grain supplies. Farming groups and EU states including France had pushed for the exemptions to be extended after they expired at the end last year. "This is a partial exemption limited to this year," European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said in announcing the new proposal. "Weather related disasters, geopolitical tensions, economics of agriculture, because of the high energy prices -- all these created the situations that we feel we are obliged to act under this pressure," he said. Instead of keeping segments of arable land unproductive, farmers would be able to grow so-called "nitrogen fixing crops" such as lentils, peas, or favas or "catch crops" grown between regular harvests and be considered to meet the fallow land requirement, a commission statement explained. Farmers would then still be eligible to payments under the bloc's farm policy. The commission's proposal now has to be considered by the European Parliament and by member states, with a view to adoption by June when the current tariff exemption runs out. The fallow land measure will be put to a vote by member states in the coming days.  



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