Alternative Export Routes for Ukraine’s Wheat
May 20, 2022
Since the early days of the conflict, Ukraine’s ports have remained blocked due to Russian ships and mines. There are 80 ships currently stranded, some carrying cargo, others – empty, with crews having fled from Ukraine. The country’s biggest port, the port of Yuzhne has been idle for the last three months, with thousands of workers staying home.
How Could Shipping Be Restored?
Boosting Rail and Road Capacity
Earlier in May, the European Commission announced plans to boost rail and road capacity and unblock Ukrainian borders so that grain can be shipped. Yet, bottlenecks still remain, and mainly the fact that there are different rail gauges in different countries. According to experts, just 20 percent of the cargo shipped from Ukraine by sea can be moved by rail to ports in Baltic countries.
Escort by Military Vessels
One option could be to escort commercial ships by military vessels. This has been the case in Somalia, for example. The United Nations could organize escort for cargo vessels, like a humanitarian corridor to help resume export from Ukrainian ports. This would help in two ways – on one hand, it will free up space for the storage of additional crops and on the other, Ukraine would be able to export some 30 million tons. Freeing up storage is especially important in light of the fact that Ukrainian facilities for storage and distribution are not equipped for long-term storage.
Dispatching Commercial Vessels
Recently, the government of Canada committed to helping Ukraine export grain to countries that need it most. Agricultural cargo is in high demand in many developing countries in Africa and the Middle East. Foreign Minister Melanie Joy confirmed that Canada is joining EU in creating Solidary Lanes to ship Ukrainian cargo by rail and road. Cargo will be shipped to EU ports from which it would be exported.
Canada would dispatch commercial vessels to load Ukrainian grain at ports in Black Sea states and ship it to Lebanon, Egypt, and other countries that are major importers of Ukrainian grain. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest sunflower and wheat exporters, and many countries rely on imports, including Bangladesh, Somalia, Benin, and Bangladesh. Other countries that are heavily dependent on Ukrainian wheat include Sudan, Egypt, Laos, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to spokeswoman for the UN World Food Program Julie Marshall, Ukraine has the capacity to produce and ship enough wheat for about 400 million people globally.
As one of the major exporters of wheat to countries such as Italy, Japan, Indonesia, and China, Canada has a good deal of experience and expertise and announced its commitment to help free the Ukrainian wheat.
The Ukrainian government is also discussing agreements with Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania to use their ports to ship wheat. This will require intermodal logistics as wheat exports will first need to be shipped by road/rail across the border. A significant challenge is, however, the way Ukrainian railroads are built as well as the damage caused to the country’s railroad network.