EU extends Ukraine tariff suspension, Zelenskiy pledges to make it permanent

FILE PHOTO: A load of corn is poured into a truck, at a grain storage facility in the village of Bilohiria

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union agreed on Thursday to suspend restrictions on imports from Ukraine for a further year after warding off an import ban imposed by some EU nations amid farmer protests over low prices.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked the EU for the extension and pledged to work towards meeting the union's standards required to secure membership of the 27-nation bloc.

The Council of the EU, the grouping of EU governments, said in a tweet that EU ministers responsible for trade had agreed to the extension at a meeting on Thursday.

The European Union lifted tariffs and other restrictions for an initial 12 months in June 2022.

"In the process of our movement into the European Union, we have to make this liberalisation, so far temporary, into a permanent one, without any exceptions or restrictions," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

The suspension of all duties has led to complaints from farming groups, culminating in Poland and Hungary banning some Ukraine grain imports in April. The countries became transit routes for Ukrainian grain that could not be exported through its Black Sea ports.

Even before Russia's invasion, Ukraine had been benefiting from the elimination of the vast majority of EU tariffs, in some cases with transition periods, under the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement applied since 2016.

But up until 2022, the EU had retained minimum prices for fruit and vegetables and tariffs and quotas on other sensitive farm products, such as meat, dairy, sugar and some cereals.

Five neighbouring countries - Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia - will bar domestic sales of certain grains from Ukraine, while allowing their transit for export elsewhere.

Zelenskiy warned that once the procedures became permanent, "there is still a risk that some restrictions may be in place".

Kyiv, he said, would work on finding solutions "in particular for farmers in Ukraine and some neighbouring countries that will meet our common European interests and standards".

The European Parliament has already backed the tariff suspension proposal.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Ron Popeski; Editing by David Ljunggren and Christopher Cushing)