Kyiv hails EU plans to abolish tariffs as war devastates Ukrainian economy

Kyiv has welcomed European Union proposals to abolish tariffs on some Ukrainian products, including food products, as the Russian attack on the country is expected to devastate the economy.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he discussed the proposals, unveiled by Brussels on Wednesday, with Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

“We will be able to save as much economic activity as possible in Ukraine and our national production,” he wrote. on his Telegram channel.

Bilateral trade between the EU and Ukraine amounted to 52 billion euros last year, according to Brussels, a figure that has doubled since 2016.

But since late February and the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s agricultural and industrial production has been hit hard, as well as its trade relations with the rest of the world, with the country’s access to the sea being blocked by the Russian navy.

Valdis Dombrovskis, European commissioner for trade, told Euronews on Thursday that the package is “a measure to support the Ukrainian economy because there are estimates like the World Bank which estimates that the Ukrainian economy due to the war will contract by about 45% this year”.

“It is a devastating impact, not only from a humanitarian point of view, but also from an economic point of view,” he added.

The proposal still needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the 27 EU member states.

The United Kingdom had already announced on Monday that it was lifting its customs duties on products imported from Ukraine.

Food and beverages were Ukraine’s main export to the EU in 2021, followed by chemicals, raw materials and other manufactured goods, according to Eurostat.

Before the start of the war, Ukraine and Russia were commonly referred to as the breadbasket of war, as they are the world’s fifth and largest exporters of grains such as wheat, corn and barley, respectively. Ukraine is also a major exporter of sunflower oil.

Kyiv banned exports of certain food items in March, including wheat, corn and sunflower oil, in a bid to avoid shortages in the country, with the establishment of humanitarian corridors appearing difficult. He has since accused Russia of targeting agricultural and logistical infrastructure, so the EU is unlikely to import food from Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, we see that Russia is pursuing hunger as a weapon of war. They are deliberately burning Ukrainian food reserves. They are also agricultural facilities. So it is clear that we must also help Ukraine in this regard, because the Sea routes are blocked by Russia, so Ukraine cannot export through its ports,” Dombrovskis told Euronews.

“So we are now strengthening the capacity of land routes so that Ukraine can export through them. And we are also simplifying procedures, customs and other administrative procedures for transport companies so that we can increase the volumes of exports not only to the EU but also via the EU to other countries,” he added.

The EU is expected next week to approve a sixth round of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, which is expected to include measures targeting the oil sector. Meanwhile, EU energy ministers will meet on May 2 to discuss Russia’s decision to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria.

Christi C. Elwood