March 18 – March 24, 2024
Belarus-West relations

The EU discusses duties on agricultural products from Belarus and Russia, sanctions synchronization, and a railway blockade

The situation has not changed
The EU discusses duties on agricultural products from Belarus and Russia, sanctions synchronization, and a railway blockade

The European Union is gradually moving towards the idea of synchronizing sanctions against Moscow and Minsk to prevent their circumvention by the Kremlin through Belarusian jurisdiction. This is facilitated by the deteriorating internal political situation in the country regarding human rights, including crimes of the regime against humanity. A blockade of cargo rail communication is considered a promising option for pressuring the regime. The lifting of EU sanctions on “Belshina” is a symbolic victory for Lukashenko but does not significantly change the situation.

As a result of the meeting of the EU member states’ foreign ministers, Belarus remains among the agenda’s priorities due to the worsening internal political situation. Also, EU leaders decided to intensify the fight against circumvention of sanctions imposed on Russia and prepare additional restrictions against Belarus, North Korea, and Iran.

Furthermore, the European Commission has prepared proposals to increase tariffs on imports of cereals, oilseeds, and their products from Russia and Belarus. These measures are intended to:

  • prevent Russian grain from destabilizing the EU market for these products;
  • stop Russia from using revenues from exporting these goods to the EU;
  • ensure that illegal Russian exports of stolen Ukrainian grain do not reach the EU market.

The European Commission expects that introducing duties (95 euros per ton) will lead to an increase in grain prices from the two countries and a decrease in demand for it. Duties of 50% are also proposed to be imposed on oilseeds and their processed products.

In addition, Russia and Belarus will no longer have access to EU grain quotas, as per the EU’s commitments to the WTO. However, the duties will not affect the transit of these goods through the European Union. This exception demonstrates the EU’s full commitment to ensuring global food security, especially concerning developing countries.

Increased tariffs will also be applied to Belarus, considering the country’s close political and economic ties with Russia. Moreover, by including Minsk in the new measure, the EU will not allow Moscow to use Belarus to circumvent the new tariffs and direct its goods to the EU market. Now, the European Commission’s proposal must be considered and approved by the European Council. Initially, the agriculture ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic asked the European Commission to completely ban the import of cereals from Russia and Belarus into EU countries. These calls resonated in the EU against the background of farmer protests, which also expressed dissatisfaction with the increase in supplies from Ukraine after the lifting of trade restrictions in 2022.

Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stated that Poland and Lithuania advocate for equalizing sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Synchronization will have both practical and legal significance since Belarus is also an aggressor state — it provided its territory for the attack on Kyiv. For sanctions to be effective, they must be efficiently applied, and synchronization will serve this purpose. For example, since the beginning of the war, exports of some goods from Belarus to the European Union have increased up to 30 times. Therefore, it is obvious that Belarus is used by Russia to export goods under sanctions. Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins also made a similar proposal, as “Belarus is effectively and fully controlled by Russia.”

26 Nobel laureates also called on the government of Poland and other EU countries to stop cargo railway communication with Belarus, including transit from Russia and China, to achieve the release of all Belarusian political prisoners.

In turn, the UN Human Rights Council published a report on the human rights situation in Belarus before and after the 2020 presidential elections. The preliminary unedited version mentions grounds to consider the persecutions in Belarus as a crime against humanity.

Against this background, the European Court lifted sanctions on OJSC “Belshina,” introduced in December 2021. The court ruled to remove “Belshina” from the sanctions list, as the EU Council did not prove that the enterprise is a significant source of income for the Lukashenko regime and conducted repression against employees who went on strike. “Belshina” representatives successfully disputed both grounds. “Belshina” representatives stated that the enterprise could not have been a significant source of income for the regime, as it was unprofitable before the sanctions were imposed.

Nonetheless, the product of OJSC “Belshina,” namely rubber tires (HS code 4011), despite the lifting of sanctions on the enterprise itself, continues to be under EU sectoral sanctions. Moreover, “Belshina” remains under sanctions by the USA, Japan, Switzerland, and Ukraine.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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