Kiev’s prospects for liberalizing grain exports to Eastern Europe improve with Romania opting against a ban on food imports.
Ukraine’s prospects for lifting a ban on grain shipments to Eastern Europe have improved as Romania has chosen not to unilaterally impose a ban on food imports, but there has been no visible progress in extending an agreement on Black Sea exports.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made clear on Thursday that Moscow considers that its conditions for extending a UN-brokered agreement to ensure safe exports across the Black Sea during the war in Ukraine have not been met.
“Here, almost nothing is done,” Lavrov told reporters in Havana during an official visit.
Russia said extending last July’s deal beyond the May 18 deadline depended on the West lifting restrictions it says were hampering Moscow’s agricultural exports.
Ukraine has boosted its exports of agricultural and food products across the European Union after the Russian invasion disrupted the usual shipping route in the Black Sea.
Grain sales are a vital source of revenue for Kiev, and a ban on food imports imposed by four eastern European Union member states over the past week has added to Ukraine’s concerns about its food exports.
Romania offered Kiev some relief and said it would not join Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in banning food imports from Ukraine to protect domestic producers hurt by the influx of cheaper Ukrainian supplies.
Instead, Bucharest will wait for the European Commission, the EU’s executive, to impose measures to help farmers in central and eastern Europe.
“I think it is necessary that we wait … to see what the Commission decides, and then we will meet again to establish long-term rules, because Romania and Ukraine are large grain producers,” said Agriculture Minister Petre Daya.
Constanta, a major grain transportation hub in Ukraine, shipped about 12 million tons of Ukrainian grain to the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta in 2022 and the first quarter of this year.
After talks with Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky, Daya said Romania and Ukraine would consult weekly on projected grain volumes, as Romania tries to limit imports.
It is clear that the situation requires quick decisions, Solsky told reporters, adding: “We understand that these decisions should be convenient for Romanian farmers and…we are waiting for the European Commission.”
The grain deal hangs in the balance
The European Commission has announced plans to offer compensation to farmers in eastern and central Europe for some products if the import ban is lifted unilaterally, but the affected countries want to expand the list of products.
Poland went further than others by banning the transit of Ukrainian grain and food products through its territory. Warsaw agreed on Tuesday to lift the measures and transit traffic resumed on Friday.
Dozens of Ukrainian foodstuffs – including sugar, meat, fruits and vegetables – are now allowed but these may not be sold on the country’s market.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the Commission’s support measures were too little, too late after the government approved 10 billion zlotys ($2.38 billion) in aid to Polish agriculture.
Grain exports from the Black Sea are more important to Kiev than exports to Eastern Europe, and talks are underway about the status of the Black Sea Grain Initiative agreement agreed last July to create a safe shipping channel.
The initiative led to the unblocking of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports five months after the Russian invasion, and was designed to alleviate the global food crisis as well as to support Ukraine.
Russia says it has only agreed to extend the deal until May 18, although Kiev and its allies say the terms of the deal say it should last beyond that date.
Concerned about its ability to ship grain from its Black Sea ports, Ukraine has boosted its exports through ports on the Danube River that flows through central and southeastern Europe.
“Without a doubt, the Danube group has become a crucial component of global food security in the face of the limited operation of the Black Sea ports,” Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook.
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