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Romania: Protest prompts reversal of grain export ban

Officials in Romania have reversed a decision to ban grain exports outside the European Union after farmers protested against it.

The initial ban was made a week ago by the government but did not sit well with the country’s grain growers, traders and indeed the European Commission. Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban took the decision in order to preserve the food supply within the country amidst the coronavirus pandemic and even threatened to seize the supply stocks.

[the country] can’t afford to be left without wheat because of the greed of some grain owners.” – Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.

As part of the state of emergency declared in the country as a result of the pandemic the measure was included in the 8th military ordinance. Referring to the pandemic the Prime Minister said the country “can’t afford to be left without wheat because of the greed of some grain owners.” The production of wheat and maize crops in Romania are 4 times bigger than the domestic consumption, and with there not being enough grain silos in the country to store this then it must be exported.

There is not enough grain silo storage for all the harvest in Romania. Photo: Chris McCullough
There is not enough grain silo storage for all the harvest in Romania. Photo: Chris McCullough

European Commission criticised grain export ban

However, the ban also upset the European Commission which expressed disapproval at Romania’s decision to ban agriculture exports and was concerned how the move could impact trade within the single market. EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “The Commission does not have any information, which indicates that Romania is facing or will soon face shortages of agricultural products intended for human consumption. The reported measure appears to be not proportionate.” Government officials in the East European country said the grain could be sold to other EU nations but only if the buyers could prove they would not export it.

Romania: One of the top grain producers in EU

Romania is one of the top grain producing nations in Europe and is home to the largest grain farm in the EU that has 57,000 hectares although it is owned by an investment group from the United Arab Emirates. Romania’s total grain production in the 2018-19 season was 26.9 million tonnes, which was down from 27.4 million in the previous year. The figure includes 10 million tonnes of wheat and 14.3 million tonnes of corn, while barley output was around 1.9 million tonnes during the same term. Markets outside the EU include those throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Pivot irrigation systems are popular in Romania. Photo: Chris McCullough
Pivot irrigation systems are popular in Romania. Photo: Chris McCullough

U-turn of grain export ban

However, on Thursday afternoon, last week, the Romanian government did a complete U-turn and reversed the decision as pressure mounted on it to do so. Minister of Interior Marcel Vela announced that a new military ordinance, which provides, among other things, for the annulment of the provision from Military Ordinance number eight suspending exports of cereals and basic agri-food products. After discussions at government level with grain traders, the perspective was achieved and the acquisition necessary to complete the state reserve was clarified so that an important issue of concern to the Romanian government, food security, is ensured until the next harvest. Meanwhile other countries are also considering banning grain exports to maintain home stocks in fear of running out of food. Ukraine has said it, too, will ban wheat exports if grain traders exceed the sales quantities previously agreed. Russia is another country that has also limited its grain exports and sold grain from its stockpile to increase the home supply to its flour millers and bakers.

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