A solution for Ukrainian grain exports might be in sight

Tractor harvest grains of wheat in a farm field. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine’s struggle to export tons of grain and other agricultural products might be close to a potential resolution. On 8 June, a Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Turkey to discuss with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu the possibility of launching a Black Sea corridor for Ukrainian exports.

The corridor will stretch from Ukrainian Black Sea ports to Turkey, reported Reuters. Even though nothing is confirmed yet, Turkey is talking with the United Nations to define the best approach to the situation and establish a joint monitoring mechanism to observe the export corridor.

After the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports by the Russian military, exports relied heavily on rail freight operations. However, infrastructure proved insufficient to support the transport of such large cargo quantities leading to a bulk of cargo being stranded on the western Ukrainian border.

Not enough transhipment points

Ukraine’s infrastructure Minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, explained in a meeting with the EU Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee a few days ago that time was pressuring and that the EU should speed up relevant investments to decongest the border crossings and facilitate grain exports.

He mentioned that transhipment capacity was insufficient to handle the cargo volumes pending on the Western Ukrainian border. “Rail transport can partially undertake all the transportation of agricultural products, particularly grain. However, transporting goods is difficult due to western Ukraine’s low border crossing capacity, which is not designed for transhipping such volumes”, he noted.

He continued by saying that Ukraine’s export capacity through the Black Sea ports was around four to five million tons per month. These volumes have now dropped to one million tons per month-a significant decrease. As a result, Ukraine and the EU need to invest in more transhipment points that will allow better cargo handling under the current circumstances and provide around 50 per cent more capacity in the future.

Nevertheless, building new infrastructure so fast is not very realistic. The EU attempted to relieve Ukraine by suspending EU duties on Ukrainian exports, but a possible food and humanitarian crisis is still lurking. In this context, opening up a Black Sea export corridor could prove lifesaving both for Ukraine and the rest of the world relying on its agricultural products.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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