It is difficult for the West to find a way out for 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain

The West proposed many solutions to find export routes for Ukraine’s grain stuck when the Black Sea was blocked, but all encountered many obstacles.

The Black Sea, Ukraine’s main grain export route, has been crippled for nearly four months as Kiev and Moscow accuse each other of laying mines and deploying warships to block key shipping lanes, preventing ships from entering and leaving. As a result, about 25 million tons of grain are trapped in Ukraine, raising concerns about the risk of a global food crisis.

As negotiations to lift the Black Sea blockade have reached an impasse, Ukraine and Western countries are scrambling to find other routes to export their grain. However, experts assess that finding a new and stable export path for Ukraine is not an easy task.

A grain storage facility in Boryspil, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine.  Photo: NYTimes.

A grain storage facility in Boryspil, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine. Image: NYTimes.

Instead of using the ports of the Black Sea to export Ukraine’s wheat, sunflower oil, corn and other agricultural products, several alternatives have been proposed, such as moving by road to Poland or Barge across the Danube, or to the Romanian port of Constanta on the Black Sea and export to the world.

President Joe Biden said last week that the United States was in discussions with its European allies about the possibility of building a series of grain storage facilities along the Polish-Ukrainian border. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on June 19 also called for “long-term efforts to develop available land routes” for the export of Ukrainian grain.

But according to analysts, the construction or upgrading of alternative shipping routes could help Ukraine increase exports of a part of the grain that is trapped, which is not enough to meet global food demand. On the other hand, the next crop is about to be harvested, with tens of millions of tons of food to be added to the stockpile, not allowing them time to do this.

“The West is rushing to find alternatives to Ukraine’s food exports,” said Mike Lee, an expert on agricultural projects in the Black Sea at Green Square Agro Consulting in the UK. “But the only possible route is through the ports of the Black Sea, because there is no other way for them to transport such huge quantities.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also acknowledged the limitations of the alternatives being considered. He said on June 20 that the new routes could only “carry a very small amount” of food stuck in the country and they also greatly increased grain prices.

Grain exports have stagnated during the pandemic due to a slump in the global economy, but Ukraine typically exports 50-60 million tons of agricultural products a year. In May, the country’s grain exports fell sharply, according to data from Strategie Grains of French research firm Tallage.

Ukraine supplied about 15% of global wheat exports in 2019, before the pandemic broke out. But AndrĂ©e Defois, deputy chief executive officer of Strategie Grain, said the rate could now drop to around 6%, if no “miracle happens”.

The European Union (EU) in May outlined a plan to secure new export routes for Ukrainian grain, while the Hungarian foreign minister proposed earlier this week to turn the country into a “collection warehouse” for Ukrainian grain exports. .

Speaking to the EU last week, Ukraine’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Markian Dmytrasevych set out specific requirements, including measures for port capacity in Constanta, Romania, and the promotion of barge routes across the Danube. .

Location of the Black Sea.  Graphics: Washington Post.

Location of the Black Sea. Graphics: Washington Post.

However, experts say that the obstacles to this plan are still very large. Ukraine’s rail gauge is different from that of most other countries in the EU, which means that grain transported by train will have to be unloaded and transshipped at the border. The construction of storage facilities along the Polish border will also take a long time and may not be in time for the next crop.

Ukraine also has too few ferries on the Danube to transport agricultural products, and the port of Constanta is too small to handle the large amount of food coming in from Ukraine.

Efforts to attract private sector investments to build infrastructure for new grain export solutions have also been a major challenge, in part because it is unclear whether the Black Sea will continue to be blocked. for how long, notes expert Mike Lee from Green Square Agro Consulting.

The export route through the Black Sea can only be opened when Ukraine reaches an agreement with Russia. However, negotiations brokered by Turkey in the hope of reaching an agreement have so far yielded no clear results, while fighting in the Black Sea continues with missile attacks. fire of both sides aimed at each other.

Vu Hoang (Theo NY Times)

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