Czech-Polish food war back in the spotlight

Marek Sawicki, photo: StagiaireMGIMO, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Czech-Polish food war which dates back to 2012 flared up anew on Monday as the Polish agriculture minister Marek Sawicki accused the Czech authorities of employing dishonest practices aimed at hurting Polish imports. He claimed that the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority had ordered a blanket nation-wide inspection targeting exclusively Polish goods and said his country would complain to the European Commission over discrimination of Polish products.

Marek Sawicki,  photo: StagiaireMGIMO,  CC BY-SA 4.0
Sparks are flying between Prague and Warsaw. Just days after Poland officially protested over an ad that allegedly ridiculed the Polish people as a nation of cheap goods peddlers, the Polish agriculture minister is crying foul over what he calls unfair practices and negative discrimination. Poland is a major supplier of food to the Czech Republic and Minister Sawicki claims that due to poor competition from Czech producers and an unsuccessful campaign to promote Czech goods the authorities are using underhand means and bad publicity campaigns to hurt Polish imports. In an interview for Polish Radio on Monday, the minister said he had written proof of the fact that the Czech Food Inspection Authorities has been ordered to launch a nation-wide inspection of Polish imports over those of other countries clearly in view of finding failings come what may. Minister Sawicki urged Polish producers to defend their rights in court and sue the Czech Republic over the treatment and said he himself would table a complaint at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels on December 14th.

“I have never heard of any Czech national having died after consuming Polish food products, but I do know that a number of Polish citizens were poisoned by Czech-made bootleg spirits sold in Poland,” the minister said in the interview.

Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka on Monday attempted to diffuse tension in bilateral relations denying the accusation that the Czech inspection authorities were waging a selective campaign against Polish goods. He said other importers had been placed under similar increased scrutiny in the wake of the EU sanctions against Russia. Due to a food glut in Europe exporters are scrambling to place their products elsewhere and the norms for goods exported to the Czech Republic and those exported to Russia differ, Minister Jurecka said. He noted that the Czech Republic and Poland enjoy traditionally good relations and expressed the hope that this misunderstanding would soon be cleared up.

However the Polish side is not likely to be satisfied with this simple explanation. The CTK news agency has acquired a copy of the document cited by the Polish agriculture minister which gives Czech inspectors instructions on how to proceed. It warns of the possibility that some goods which find their way here could originally have been produced for the Russian market, however in giving specific instructions on the testing of apples it says that “in the last week of September every inspector in the field will take a sample of 2 imported apples of Polish origin, noting specifically that other imports are not to be tested.”

Despite the ongoing controversy, Polish products are selling as well as ever on the Czech market with the main attraction being their low price. Whether or not Poland’s accusations of a smear campaign are proven true, one thing is clear – it is not working.