Unblocking Ukrainian Seaports as a Tool to Overcome the Global Food Crisis

This is the fourth in a series from the frontlines of Russia’s war against Ukraine by Vitalii Dankevych, an Economics Professor at Polissia National University. Read parts one, two, and three.

The Black Sea region typically accounts for 30 percent of world wheat exports, as well as 20 percent of corn and 75 percent of sunflower oil. In 2020/2021, Ukraine exported 44.7 million tons of cereals and legumes, including 16.6 million tons of wheat, 23.1 million tons of corn, and 4.2 million tons of barley. Sea transport accounted for 92-96 percent of bulk cargo exports, including grain and oilseeds and 95-97 percent of oils from Ukraine. Data from the forecast of the investment company Dragon Capital and the World Bank show how important Ukraine’s ports are—if the Black Sea remains closed, Ukraine’s GDP will fall by 45 percent.

Because of large-scale Russian aggression, six seaports—Yuzhny, Mykolayiv, Olbia, Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Belgorod-Dniester—are unable to accept and send cargo. The ports of Mariupol, Berdyansk, Skadovsk, and Kherson are closed due to their temporary occupation.

Attempts are currently being made to conduct logistics through European countries. The Prime Ministers of Ukraine and Poland signed a memorandum to strengthen cooperation in the railway sphere, which provides for the establishment of a joint logistics company of the two countries. This mechanism of cooperation will increase the volume of rail transportation of Ukrainian exports to the EU and world markets through the Polish ports of Gdynia and Gdansk.

Currently, cooperation in this area is being established with Romania, Moldova, Lithuania, and Latvia. The possibility of using a number of ports in four basins is being explored: the Baltic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean basin, and the ports of the western Black Sea coast.

Ukraine is currently unifying and simplifying customs procedures with our western neighbors, including European Commission members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, as well as Moldova to establish exports. At the same time, there is no physical alternative to seaports for export.

The issue of unblocking ports for humanitarian purposes, namely the avoidance of hunger, is a priority for all: the United States, the European Union, Britain, Africa, and the Middle East. In 2022, Ukraine needs to export only 80 million tons of wheat, and the only option is through Odessa.

Currently, the world has stocks of wheat in warehouses for about ten weeks. The first reason is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the blockade of ports, the second is because India has banned its exports in recent weeks.

In Europe, support is growing for a naval operation to export Ukrainian grain, which involves escorting Ukrainian grain ships by warships in the Black Sea. The United Kingdom is negotiating with its allies to send a navy to the Black Sea to protect ships loaded with Ukrainian grain.

Lithuania proposes to create a naval coalition to lift the Russian blockade on Ukrainian grain exports across the Black Sea. A non-NATO naval escort operation could protect grain ships as they cross the Black Sea and past Russian warships. This plan requires de-mining of parts of the Black Sea to ensure safe passage, as well as an agreement with Turkey, which protects entrance into the country’s waters.

Restoring Ukraine’s seaports is the only way to reduce food prices and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe—famine in the Middle East and North Africa, which are the main importers of food from Ukraine.

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Photo courtesy of Marion Golsteijn Wikimedia Commons

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