Polish truckers have lifted their blockade of checkpoints on the border with Ukraine after reaching an agreement with their government, putting an end for now to a two-month protest that has delayed tons of goods from reaching Europe and strained the Ukrainian economy.
Under the agreement, reached on Tuesday afternoon, the truckers will suspend the blockade while they hold further talks with the Polish government to reach a final deal by March 1. A few hours later, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service announced that traffic had resumed at the three border crossings that remained blocked.
A free flow of goods “is vital in times of war, especially for the supply of the military and humanitarian goods, for exports and for the functioning of our economy,” Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said in a statement welcoming the agreement.
Since the war began in 2022, Ukraine has mainly used overland routes for its exports because of Russia’s attempt to blockade the Black Sea. But Polish truckers have complained about what they see as unfair and cheap competition from their Ukrainian counterparts, threatening their own profits. Starting in early November, they blocked several checkpoints, forcing thousands of Ukrainian trucks to wait for days at the border.
The Polish and Ukrainian governments had been holding regular talks to try to resolve the problem, without much success. At times, the blockade had strained relations with Poland, one of Ukraine’s strongest wartime backers.
Poland’s infrastructure minister, Dariusz Klimczak, told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon that the main points of the agreement included talks to review a European Union free-trade agreement with Ukraine that Polish truckers say has harmed them, and tighter controls on the paperwork of Ukrainian truckers.
Polish truckers warned that they would revive the blockade if they were not satisfied with the terms of the agreement. “We are suspending the protest, we are not ending it,” said Rafał Mekler, one of the leaders of the protest movement.
Trade tensions had surfaced earlier over complaints by Polish farmers that a European Union’s decision to allow Ukraine’s agricultural imports into the bloc free of tariffs would upend their domestic market. That dispute was resolved after the Polish government agreed to meet the farmers’ demands for financial compensation.
In the most recent dispute with the truckers, the protesters’ main sticking point is the European Union’s decision to end the permit requirements for Ukrainian truckers after Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, in a move designed to help keep the Ukrainian economy afloat during the war.
Protesters said that it had led to an influx of Ukrainian drivers who were not subject to European Union rules on working hours and wages, cutting into the profits of Polish truckers. The main demand of the Polish workers is the restoration of transport permits for Ukrainian truckers.
But Mr. Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, suggested on Tuesday that Ukraine would not compromise on permits, raising the possibility that tensions could persist.
“It is important for us to preserve and extend the ‘transport visa-free regime’ as a necessity to support our economy in times of war,” Mr. Kubrakov said.
Donald Tusk, who was recently elected as Poland’s prime minister, has made ending the blockade one of his priorities to improve flagging relations with Ukraine.
While acknowledging what he called “unequal competition with Ukrainian haulers,” Mr. Tusk said he was concerned about the negative image the protests were projecting, at a time when Ukraine is struggling with daily Russian bombardments and fierce assaults along its front line.
“Our arguments will be better heard when Poland is not a country blocking the border,” he said earlier this month.
It remains to be seen what kind of progress can be made in the dispute. But the lifting of the blockade, even if temporary, is likely to bring some relief to Ukraine’s flagging economy, which is heavily dependent on exports of raw materials such as grain.