The G7 foreign and agriculture ministers at meetings in Germany will discuss urgent measures to break the Russian blockade of grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, including an attempt to open routes through Romanian and Baltic ports.
The grain export ban has quickly become one of Ukraine’s most pressing diplomatic and humanitarian crises. Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States is working on solutions to “get this food out into the world so it can help bring prices down.”
G7 foreign ministers meet at the Baltic resort of Weissenhaus, northeast of Hamburg, and agriculture ministers in Stuttgart.
Cem Ozdemir, Germany’s agriculture minister and Green Party member, had been looking for months with the European Union for alternative train routes through Poland and Belarus to the Baltic ports, but the different train gauges between Ukraine and Poland, a past backlog of traffic and a lack of proper rail cars all count against This option.
According to one Ukrainian estimate, only 20% of the exports that Ukraine normally sends through the Black Sea ports can be transported by rail to the Baltic ports. The cost of ground transportation has increased fivefold in the past year.
Before the war, most of Ukraine’s food — enough to feed 400 million people — was exported through the country’s seven Black Sea ports. In the eight months before the conflict broke out, nearly 51 million metric tons of grain passed through it, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Ukraine’s trade is worth $47 billion (£38 billion) annually.
Ukraine’s Minister of Agricultural and Food Policy, Mykola Solsky, has examined options ranging from Gdansk or further east to the port of Klaipeda in Lithuania and three ports in Latvia. Baltic ports lost trade from them Russia And Belarus, including potash, therefore has spare capacity.
The Roman port of Constanta also took some Ukrainian grain shipments, but ships carrying grain towards Turkey would probably need to stay within Roman waters.
The United Nations also discussed whether a humanitarian corridor could be opened through Belarus to transport grain to the Baltic ports because the route scale between Ukraine and Belarus is standardized.
“Now the granaries in Ukraine are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are walking towards starvation. We have to open these ports so that food can enter,” said David Beasley of the United Nations World Food Program, who has sounded the alarm for weeks. And get out of Ukraine. The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people globally depend on the food that comes through these ports.”
Normally, Ukraine will export about 5-6 million tons of grain and 700,000 tons of oilseeds through the Black Sea ports per month. There are cumulative estimates to export anything between 15 million and 20 million tons, according to the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club.
Markyan Dmitrasevich, Ukraine’s appointed deputy agriculture minister, said exports by rail could expand to between 600,000 tons and 1 million tons, but that it would take 18 to 24 months to clear existing stocks, before any new crop was added. In April, only 560,000 metric tons were exported by rail from Ukraine.
Reopening the ports remains the best option, said Roman Slaston, general manager of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club, but exports by land, river barges and rail trucks could double to nearly half of what used to pass through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
He said the greatest potential for growth would come from organizing an army of up to 10,000 trucks transporting grain on a five-day round trip from Ukraine to the Baltic ports. He said Ukraine could use 40 grain plants in the European Union.
Slaston said as many as 5,000 railcars laden with grain on the Polish border are waiting to cross, but that there is currently only a capacity of 350 carriages per day.
After Russian missiles hit the port city of Odessa on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Without our agricultural exports, dozens of countries in different parts of the world are already on the brink of food shortages. And the poorest are the hardest hit. The political repercussions for this would be dire.”
David Miliband, chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, said: “For now, I believe that sanctions against Russia are at least as likely to be blamed for rising food prices as the invasion of Ukraine does. There is a huge competition to be won over public opinion globally.” .
There are already signs that Russian diplomacy is trying to shift the blame. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, claimed, during a visit to the Sultanate of Oman, that the Ukrainian authorities were refusing to allow ships carrying wheat from their ports, and had mined the areas around the ports. Ukraine said the accusations were absurd.
In 2020, Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest wheat exporter, and low- and middle-income countries were important beneficiaries. The main export destinations were Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.
In Egypt, where a third of the population lives below the official poverty line and depends on state-subsidized bread, flour prices have risen by 15%. The general inflation rate for April exceeded 13%.
In the month following the start of the conflict, wheat and maize export prices rose by 22% and 20%, respectively, on top of sharp increases in 2021.
These increases are likely to continue since the sowing drive for Ukrainian farmers was delayed by up to a fifth due to shortages of herbicides, cold weather, diesel fuel and vehicle traffic due to curfews, Solsky said. Farmers switched from spring crops to sunflower seeds and soybeans. It is estimated that about one fifth of Ukrainian agricultural land is now in the hands of Russia.
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