The recently announced EU measures to help Ukraine export grain despite the Russian blockade of its seaports are not enough as they will be mostly based on the country’s obsolete railways, a Ukrainian lawmaker has told the European Parliament.
A delegation of Ukraine MPs was invited to a hearing of the Parliament’s agriculture committee on Tuesday (17 May) dedicated to the food security situation in the world in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As it currently stands, 40 million tonnes of grain destined for the EU are stuck in storage in Ukraine. The race is now on to get 20 million tonnes of this grain out of the war-torn country to the bloc before the end of July.
For this reason, the EU executive presented last week an action plan to establish alternative logistics routes using all relevant transport modes, known as ‘solidarity lanes’.
The priority actions will include additional freight rolling stock, vessels and lorries, as well as the prioritisation of Ukrainian agricultural export shipments on borders, optimisation of customs operations and other inspections, but also more capacity for the temporary storage of Ukrainian exports on the territory of the EU.
Commission opens 'solidarity lanes' to strengthen EU-Ukraine food export
The European Commission has introduced new so-called ‘solidarity lanes’ to improve EU-Ukraine connectivity for grain export, including through railways, amid the blockade of Ukrainian ports due to the Russian invasion.
However, speaking before MEPs, the Ukrainian lawmaker Larysa Bilozir criticised the plan as even though it was considered “very well prepared”, it would not “help substantially in significantly increases exports […] without deblocking southern Ukrainian ports or rerouting through Baltic ports.”
The Commission’s ‘solidarity lanes’ are mostly based on facilitating railway transport of grains, but seaports were accounting for 90% of Ukraine’s export before the war.
“At best, we will export not one but two million tonnes of grain per month when we need six million tonnes,” Bilozir said, adding that at this pace, Ukraine will deliver about 47 million tonnes of the planned 70 million tonnes by July, while exports need to be doubled instead.
After the meeting with farming ministers of Poland and Ukraine and with the US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, EU’s agriculture boss Janusz Wojciechowski said Ukraine should export five million tons of grain per month to avoid threats to global food security.
The Ukrainian representatives also mentioned the necessity to open new hubs and customs points, highlighting that the 400-kilometres border with Romania has only 5 such points, while more of them are actually needed.
At the same time, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said that “it is probably impossible to transport 4-5 million tons of grain per month through Poland, but if we could help export 1-2 million tons of grain — it would already be a big success”.
While appreciating the efforts by the European partner, Ukraine’s Bilozir warned that her country needs more routes, and also asked for an exception from EU transit requirements, not only through Romania but also via Poland, Lithuania and additionally Bulgaria.
“We need to make it faster and to make export agriculture products double because today we hope that the support of international partners will be able to resume active exports from Ukraine,” she added.
Because of the war, food prices have dramatically fallen in the Ukrainian domestic market while prices are increasing on the global stage, Bilozir said.
She mentioned a modern farm in her constituency with 3,000 cattle, with equipment from Germany and Israel which is now selling beef at an average price of around €1 per kilogram when the prices are five times higher abroad.