The export volume of Ukrainian agricultural products over the Polish border has decreased to a third of last year’s amount, indicating that existing capacities are not being used, according to EU Transport Commissioner Adina V?lean.
During a joint press point with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov in Brussels on Monday (25 September), V?lean presented a number of measures to increase the logistical capacity of the solidarity lanes, an initiative launched by the EU last year to help Ukraine export agricultural goods via its neighbouring EU countries.
But while the Commissioner hailed the Solidarity Lanes as a “real lifeline” for Ukraine, she admitted that “there is still capacity unused” on solidarity lanes leading through Poland after exports through the country decreased significantly.
“You can look at the figures for the volume of goods moved last year compared to this year, and you will see it is three times less,” V?lean explained. “This means that the capacity existed, but it is not fully used at the moment.”
Alongside Hungary and Slovakia, Poland introduced unilateral restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural imports after EU-wide measures expired on 15 September. The step prompted Kyiv to file a lawsuit against the three countries at the World Trade Association (WTO), while the tensions around grain exports have significantly soured bilateral relations between Ukraine and Poland.
However, V?lean did not confirm whether, in the Commission’s view, the unilateral trade measures are behind the drop in exports via Poland. Instead, she spoke of “various reasons, which we do not want to comment on”.
In July, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said that the EU has the logistic capacity to help Ukraine replace the Black Sea route virtually entirely thanks to the solidarity lanes.
Close cooperation with Romania
Ukraine’s Kubrakov, who is in charge of the country’s restoration efforts, also declined to comment in detail on the ongoing discussions on grain transit with Poland, Slovakia and Hungary but said that “we are using any opportunity to try to just to export our grain through any neighbouring countries”.
At the same time, he thanked Romania for its cooperation in efforts to ramp up grain transports via the Danube River, which is seen by many experts as one of the most promising alternatives to the Black Sea route blocked by Russia.
“We appreciate the patience and understanding of our Romanian colleagues and the European Commission’s support,” he said.
According to V?lean, the measures discussed on Monday include identifying additional anchorage for grain vessels and improved management of port access and traffic.
“Even stronger cooperation between Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, specifically on streamlining border control procedures, will also increase capacity along the land route to the Danube port and the port of Constan?a,” she added.
Shortly after the end of the EU’s trade restriction measures, Kyiv and Bucharest started talks on an agreement on the transit of Ukrainian grain, and Romania has so far not taken unilateral steps.
Defying Russian attacks
Despite the focus on the Danube route, V?lean also admitted that the recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian Danube ports “of course make life more difficult”.
However, she added that Ukraine and the EU are exploring “other options”, such as transporting goods to Romanian Danube ports and shipping them from there.
Asked whether the Danube was still a safe route to bet on for Ukraine’s grain exports, Kubrakov admitted there are risks but stressed: “We have no other option.”
Meanwhile, V?lean and Kubrakov announced that, for the first time, Ukraine and Moldova can now apply for funding via a new call under the Connecting Europe Facility, an EU funding instrument geared towards promoting infrastructure investments.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]
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