Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, speaking at a special news conference on September 17 on the eve of a nationwide protest by agricultural sector organisations, said that the main problems of farmers had already been solved.
The protest, for which the catalyst has been the lifting of an import ban on various basic foodstuffs from Ukraine, is planned to involve traffic disruptions at a number of Bulgaria’s border checkpoints and major roads on September 18, before moving on to the Cabinet building in Sofia on September 19.
Denkov said that Ukraine had undertaken to the European Commission to introduce temporary restrictions on the export of agricultural products for each individual EU member state, so as not to flood its market with surplus goods.
He said that he had twice spoken to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal: “We are expected to determine what quantities of which products the Bulgarian market can absorb.
“We want to make the assessment after talking to the branch organisations in the relevant sub-sectors. It was on this topic that first the Minister of Agriculture and Food, and then I invited the farmers to a meeting, which they declined,” Denkov said.
“Instead of responding to invitations, they issued ultimatums and threats that actually prevent the issues from being resolved. Nevertheless, we remain with an outstretched hand to the sector and are ready for a conversation, as soon as the branch organisations are ready for a constructive dialogue,” he said.
Denkov said that the government had never refused talks with the agricultural sector.
Already on July 25, he, Finance Minister Assen Vassilev and the deputy minister of agriculture had met representatives of 35 organisations in the livestock sector.
“At that time, the vast majority of these producers declared themselves in favour of free of imports from Ukraine,” Denkov said.
He said that representatives of the now protesting trade organisations participated in five advisory councils in the Ministry of Agriculture from the beginning of August to the middle of September of this year.
They are also part of the working groups under the Strategic Plan for Agriculture and are in constant contact with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Minister Kiril Vatev.
“As before, the Cabinet is ready for a dialogue with the representatives of each sub-sector in agriculture to see what its specific problems are and where exactly help should be provided,” Denkov said.
Products harmful to health are not and will not be allowed in Bulgaria, he said.
There are and will be strict import controls for all indicators according to European standards, including all risk indicators related to the war in Ukraine, Denkov said, in an apparent reference to claims on social networks that imports from Ukraine could be radioactive – claims spread by the pro-Putin, anti-Ukraine camp.
Denkov said that from October 1 until the entry into force of the import ban on May 3 this year, the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) had analysed 575 consignments of grain imported from Ukraine to Bulgaria. No harmful substances had been found in any of them. In only one shipment, of 40 tons, were warehouse pests identified. The entire amount was returned to Ukraine.
With the lifting of the ban, as of tomorrow, September 18 2023, BFSA will carry out additional checks on food originating in Ukraine, imported into Bulgaria, he said.
He said that the Cabinet was working on a change in the methodology for subsidising agricultural production. The aim is to provide more support to small and medium-sized producers of traditional Bulgarian crops that have disappeared from the market – vegetables and fruits, meat, milk and honey.
“I respect the work of the people who produce the products that we all eat. I am always ready to work with those of them who want to work with the government to find solutions to their problems together. I am ready to apologise to these people if they felt affected, even though my words were not directed at them,” Denkov said, in response to a reporter’s question about his controversial statement a day earlier that the agricultural organisations involved in the planned protest were “behaving like terrorists”.
“I don’t see anything to apologise to others who, in spite of billions of annual subsidies and aid, with which they built villas and bought yachts and expensive cars, forgot the help from the European Union and the state, refused dialogue with the government and issued blockade ultimatums at border crossings, road arteries and the centre of the capital city,” Denkov said.
He called on every farmer to decide which of these two groups they belong to in the coming days.
Media reports in Bulgaria this week showed a number of ties between those involved in the planned protest and President Roumen Radev, who opposes the pro-Western government elected by Bulgaria in June.
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