30th Mar 2023

Ukraine seeks to increase grain exports and storage via EU

  • Ukraine may have a grain storage capacity deficit of 10-15 million tonnes by October, Ukrainian deputy agriculture minister Markiyan Dmytrasevych told MEPs (Photo: Jan Fidler)
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Ukraine wants to increase grain exports via Romania's Black Sea ports of Constanta and Sulina, Ukrainian deputy agriculture minister Markiyan Dmytrasevych told MEPs from the agriculture committee on Tuesday (14 June).

Winning the war and unblocking seaports in the south of the country is "the only solution" to avert the deepening of the global food crisis that is already unfolding, he added, urging the EU not to stop supplying arms to Ukrainian forces.

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"Temporary measures, such as humanitarian corridors, will not address the issue [of global food shortages]… [because] the situation will remain critically insecure in the Black Sea," he told MEPs.

Dmytrasevych called on EU countries to send additional financial aid to facilitate the export of grain, wheat, and other agricultural products from Ukraine to other parts of the world, adding that it is necessary to build intermodal terminals on the Danube to ease the transportation of cargo between land and water.

He also said the Romanian ports could be used in reverse mode to supply fuel to Ukraine.

In response to the deputy minister's address, centre-right Romanian MEP Daniel Buda said that the current problem is not related to the Constanta port capacity.

"The biggest problem has to do with lorries that come into the port. Unfortunately, we don't have the road infrastructure that would allow for quick transport from the harbour," he said.

The export capacity of Ukraine has significantly decreased since the war began in late February.

Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine exported some five to six million tons of grain per month, mainly through the Black Sea.

However, according to Dmytrasevych, Ukraine exported 200,000 tonnes in March, about one million tonnes in April and nearly two million tonnes in May — with current exports expected to reach up to 2.4 million tonnes per month.

Russia has a grip on over 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain at ports in the Black Sea.

Differing rail gauge widths — which make Ukrainian wagons incompatible with rail networks in most EU member states — has been identified as one of the obstacles to the re-routing of Ukrainian exports by land.

Last month, Ukraine and Poland reached an agreement to help export Ukrainian stranded wheat and grain by land.

'Time is essential'

With war threatening critical harvesting seasons in Ukraine, concern has emerged over food shortages in Europe and beyond.

Ukraine may have a grain storage capacity deficit of 10-15 million tonnes by October, Dmytrasevych also told MEPs.

Ukraine had 85 million tonnes worth of grain storage capacity before Russia's invasion, but now has only 60 million tonnes worth of storage capacity as a result of destroyed infrastructure.

There is an urgent need to set up temporary grain storage facilities for the next harvest, he said, calling on EU countries to consider establishing these temporary facilities in their territory.

"Time is essential. Time is ticking against us," said German centre-right MEP Norbert Lins, who chairs the agriculture committee.

He said it is key "to cut the red tape and bureaucracy" to ensure the export of Ukrainian grain.

Global knock-on effects

Global food prices have been increasing since the start of the pandemic, but the disruption in exports of grain and fertilisers as a consequence of the war in Ukraine has pushed prices even higher — with wheat prices in world markets reaching an all-time high.

This situation risks worsening famine in some African countries, Southern Asia, and the Middle East.

"The war in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on other humanitarian contexts cannot be underestimated," said the head of the humanitarian organisation International Rescue Committee David Miliband in a statement.

He said world leaders must scale up diplomatic efforts to end the blockages on ports in the Black Sea.

Western countries have accused Russia of weaponising food and agricultural products, falsely claiming that sanctions imposed on Moscow are responsible for the current food crisis.

G7 countries are expected to discuss the issue of food security later this month.

Last week, the Kremlin said that direct and indirect sanctions against Russia should be lifted for Russian grain volumes to be delivered to international markets.

Both Russia and Ukraine rank among the top three global exporters of wheat, maize, and sunflower seeds, as well as fertilisers.

The UN previously warned that the war in Ukraine could lead to between eight and 13 million more people being undernourished next year.

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