ARSEN DIDUR, Executive Director of SMPU: The agrarian industries of Ukraine and the EU need to converge, not get separated

AGRA-EUROPE, Independent European Press- and Information Service on Agrarian Policy and Economy, published the interview with Arsen Didur, Executive Director od the Dairy Union of Ukraine:


AgЕ: For ten years your country is in a state of war. In the last two years Russia intensified its attacks on your country. How are you and your country coping with the situation? What is the impact on your personal life?

In the first months of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, the whole world was following the events thar were taking place in our country. Little by little, the news from Ukraine began to weary, then disappeared from the media headlines. But the Russian aggression did not disappear, its intensity did not diminish, but grew. We survived the winter of 2023 with large-scale blackouts, we also survived the blasting of the Kakhovka hydroelectric station on the Dnieper, which caused large-scale flooding of the southern lands. Our economy and agricultural sector are operating under pressure due to the need to demine the large areas, rebuild the damaged facilities and overcome the problems dealt with logistics that became complicated. Mobilization into the army takes a toll on personnel, continuous shelling makes it difficult to organize shelters and deal with lot of other tasks necessary in the hour of war.

At the same time, the country continues to resist this savage aggression, gaining new resources, opportunities and using assistance from other countries, which, it seems, are beginning to realize that the defeat of Ukraine will threaten them. In my opinion, elections which are now on the run in several countries, are making an unreasonably big impact on the situation. The desire to save high ratings in these  election rallies overshadows the main goal all those elected should keep in mind: taking care of the security of their own countries. And for this, it is necessary to help Ukraine quickly defeat the enemy, this will be a guarantee of peace in Europe.

AgE: In which state is the Ukrainian milk industry at the moment? What is the impact of two years of war on dairy farms and dairy plants?

The Ukrainian dairy industry, like the whole country, is working under fire, especially in the Eastern and Southern regions. During the full-scale invasion, the agricultural sector suffered direct losses amounting to $8.7 billion, and taking into account indirect losses, $31.5 billion. In the first year of the invasion, more than 300 livestock farms were damaged and destroyed. Thousands of animals were killed. Under such conditions, it is clear that milk production has decreased. In 2022, total milk production amounted to 7.7 million tons, 11% less than in pre-war 2021. 2.8 million tons of milk were processed. Last year, 7.4 million tons of milk were produced, although dairy farms managed even to slightly increase production. The overall reduction was due to a decrease in the number of livestock in households. In 2023, the volume supplied for processing increased compared to the previous year to 2.9 million tons.

I would not like that the AGRA-EUROPE readers relied only on the figures in tons and money in their assessments of the impact of the war on the dairy industry. Maintaining these indicators at the level noted above became possible due to the fact that dairy industry workers often work in conditions that are impossible to imagine in peacetime. They work without regard for time or the tasks unusual for their positions (clearing production areas after shelling, arranging shelters, organizing the logistics of volunteer assistance, etc.) and do not expect large payments.

This indicates a high degree of sustainability of the Ukrainian dairy industry and the well-established interaction of all the parts of the production chain. Indeed, even in war conditions, the Ukrainian dairy industry not only meets the needs of the domestic market, there is also dairy production to export available.

There is a growing interest in dairy farming in the agricultural sector; businesses are investing in new dairy farms and consider it to be a promising business.

AgЕ: In a previous interview with AGRA-EUROPE you welcomed the current autonomous trade measures the EU granted to your country to facilitate imports of Ukrainian agriculture goods into the EU-single market. Nowadays some countries and agriculture stakeholders in the EU are asking for more restrictions. Are you afraid of a shift of direction within the EU-politics?

The change in the attitude of European politicians towards the import of agricultural products from Ukraine to the EU is already obvious. This is already happening. It is clear that their desire is to appear both as defenders of their agricultural sector and at the same time supporters of free trade. The restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural exports that are being introduced now and, I think, will continue to be introduced, are the simplest thing that can be done in this situation. Another matter is whether this will benefit European agribusiness.

Hardly anyone can deny the power and capacity of the Ukrainian, non-subsidized agricultural sector. I believe, and representatives of our government have already spoken about this at ongoing intergovernmental negotiations: restrictions and prohibitions are not the most effective way to solve the problem. We must talk about something else: about a true mutually beneficial partnership between the Ukrainian and European agriculture using the strengths of both the Ukrainian and European agricultural sectors. This, of course, is more difficult than simple introduction of restrictions and prohibitions, but the effect of such an approach will be much more valuable.

Not to isolate the EU agriculture from Ukraine, but to accept it as part of the European agricultural space – this is exactly how I see the way to solve the problems that we are now observing. And we don’t just observe. As for the dairy industry, Ukrainian Union of Dairy Enterprises (SMPU) is already negotiating closer cooperation with the European Dairy Association; we have also created a European Integration Committee at SMPU, which is aimed at dealing with the issues of bringing our dairy industry closer to the European one on the basis of partnership, with understanding of the specifics of Ukrainian conditions and conditions the dairy industry operates in the EU.

AgЕ: You recently found a common agreement with the Polish dairy industry on trade. However, are there fears, that especially the trade of Ukrainian dairy products with the EU would be impaired in the near future?

The Union of Dairy Enterprises of Ukraine is in constant contact with the European Dairy Association and the Dairy Chamber of Poland (Polska Izba Mleka). Since the beginning of the protests by Polish farmers and the blockade of border checkpoints, we have had several meetings, including personal ones in Poland, where we analyzed in detail the state of affairs in the dairy trade between our countries. We have a mutual understanding on this issue with our Polish colleagues. The result of our meetings was a joint appeal from the SMPU and the Polish Dairy Chamber to the governments of our countries. Complications in trade are disadvantageous for both the Ukrainian and Polish sides. And we conveyed this to those who make the decisions.

AgЕ: How are the relations with your EU neighbours such as Poland or Romania? Could you solve the conflicts with Bulgaria on SMP-trade?

I have already spoken about relations with Polish colleagues. Regarding the supply of SMP to Bulgaria. We continue the same policy as with our Polish colleagues. End of April we have a meeting with the Bulgarian Dairy Union, and we hope all the controversial issues will be resolved.

AgЕ: Several national intelligence services and politicians are warning about Russian misinformation campaigns. Do you see “Putins-hand” in the rising trade-conflicts between Ukraine and some parts of the EU-agriculture sector?

I am absolutely sure that the Russian propaganda network in the EU is working and, as we can see, it is working successfully. Moreover, Russia has long used “trade wars” to advance its narratives (recall the “cheese wars” with Ukraine that preceded the russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine in 2014). This does not mean that Putin’s structures finance or organize specific protests, for example, those by Polish or French farmers. The influence occurs at the level of the European media owned by Russian structures and European radical parties and organizations that are prone to organizing protest movements and riots, which are supported by the Putin regime. The propaganda that turned Russians into voters who support their leader, who started this war, where not only Ukrainians, but also Russians themselves are dying, cannot be underestimated. The background the pro-Russian propaganda structures create in Europe, contributes to the protest explosions that we have been seen for several months.


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