The EU urged member states on Thursday to urgently find ways to move Ukraine’s grain by land in order to break Russia’s Black Sea blockade, which has destabilised the world food supply.
Russia’s siege of Ukraine’s seaports has forced the country’s mighty grain exporters to secure alternative routes through Europe, mainly by rail or truck, but also on the Danube river.
Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports -– 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are painfully inefficient.
Currently, train waggons and containers are backed up at the border with mountains of grain sitting in silos in Ukraine needing to move before the next harvest.
Romania made the port of Constanta available to Ukraine and a first shipment of corn was made late last month.
“20 million tonnes of grain have to leave Ukraine in less than three months using the EU infrastructure,” EU transport commissioner Adina Valean told reporters.
“This is a gigantic challenge, so it is essential to coordinate and optimise the logistics chains, put in place new routes, and avoid, as much as possible, bottlenecks,” she said.
The methods proposed by Brussels include asking authorities to cut back on paperwork demands and to hire enough border staff to allow for checks around the clock.
Ukraine has borders with EU members Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland, countries that have “spared no effort in helping during the crisis,” Valean said.
The commission said the movement of Ukrainian grain must be given priority on EU rail and road networks so that the supply can reach the world market via EU ports.
Valean said it was “better and easier” to use EU seaports to reach the global market, though “the main problem being how you get there”.
Brussels also called on market players to urgently provide mobile grain loaders, big pieces of equipment that shift grain off Ukrainian train waggons and that are incompatible with the EU’s rail network.
Brussels said it would also seek ways to offer transport companies better financial guarantees to go into Ukraine and get the grain, something companies have been reluctant to do given the war.
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