The Russian army stepped up attacks on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa this week. For an indefinite period of time, Ukraine may still be unable to export grain to the world via the Black Sea port. The EU Commission therefore suggested a series of measures on Thursday with which the connection between the EU and Ukraine can be maintained away from the Ukrainian Black Sea ports. “It’s a gigantic challenge,” said Romanian Transport Commissioner Adina Valean when she presented an action plan to the Brussels authorities.

As Valean explained, 40 million tons of grain are currently stored in Ukraine. Half of that has to be exported by the end of July, she said. However, the EU’s action plan is not only intended to ensure that the food stocks stored in Ukraine and the coming crops continue to reach the world market. In the opposite direction, too, there should be faster transport of humanitarian aid and products urgently needed in Ukrainian agriculture, such as animal feed and fertilizers.

When transporting goods between Ukraine and the EU overland, the crossing points at the borders are considered to be a bottleneck, especially on rail routes. Due to the different track gauges of the Ukrainian railways, the goods have to be reloaded at the Ukrainian border. According to the EU Commission, there is an average waiting time of 16 days for freight cars.

In view of the long waiting times, the EU Commission called on the relevant companies to make more mobile chargers available at border crossings in order to speed up the reloading of the grain. Such a machine can handle a load of 130 tons per hour, which is equivalent to the load of two wagons.

In addition, Commissioner for Transport Valean appealed “for urgent reasons” to companies in the EU to use railway wagons, trucks and ships to transport goods via the Danube or the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta. She calculated that it would take 10,000 barges and 300 larger ships to transport 20 million tons of grain.

The fact that the EU Commission wants to boost grain exports from Ukraine also has to do with the increasingly dramatic supply situation in regions such as the Horn of Africa. The Russian war of aggression is endangering the global food supply. Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia, which were already struggling with the consequences of climate change before the war, are now threatened by an additional grain supply shortage. Before the war, Ukraine was the world’s fourth largest exporter of corn and on track to become the third largest exporter of wheat.

Typically, 75 percent of Ukraine’s grain production is exported. Grain exports contribute to a fifth of Ukraine’s annual export earnings. Before the war, 90 percent of Ukraine’s grain and oilseed exports left the country through Black Sea ports. Before the war, exports went one third each to the EU, China and Africa.

Ukraine already has an association agreement with the EU that guarantees Kyiv significant trade facilitation. In order to provide additional support for the Ukrainian economy in the war situation, the EU Commission recently proposed suspending import duties on all Ukrainian goods for a year. In addition, protective measures against Ukrainian steel imports are to be dropped. The EU member states and the European Parliament still have to approve the proposal.

A proposal by the EU Commission from the beginning of April, according to which Ukrainian truck drivers in the EU can expect liberalization and fewer requirements, is also still awaiting approval from the EU member states. Valean said on Thursday that she hopes that the Commission’s proposal will be implemented “as soon as possible”.


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