Romanian port can hardly cope with the flow of Ukrainian grain

CONSTANTA, Romania (AP) — Ukraine’s seaports have been blocked or taken over by Russian forces, and the neighboring Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta has become a major conduit for grain exports from the war-torn country. in the context of the growing global food crisis.

It is the largest port in Romania and hosts the fastest loading grain terminal in Europe. Since the February 24 invasion, it has processed almost a million tons of grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and corn.

But port operators say maintaining, let alone increasing, the volumes they handle may soon become impossible without concerted support and investment from the European Union.

“If we want to continue helping Ukrainian farmers, we need help to increase our transshipment capacity,” said Dan Dolgin, director of grain operations at main operator Comvex in the Black Sea port.

“No operator can invest in infrastructure that will become redundant after the end of the war,” he added.

Comvex can process up to 72,000 tons of grain per day. This, and Constanta’s proximity by land to Ukraine and by sea to the Suez Canal, make it the best current route for Ukrainian agricultural exports. Other alternatives include road and rail transport across Ukraine’s western border to Poland and its Baltic Sea ports.

Attempts to lift the Russian blockade came to nothing. and projects of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations This year, up to 181 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis or even higher levels of hunger. in connection with the war in Ukraine.

Just days after the Russian invasion, Comvex invested in a new unloading facility, anticipating that the neighboring country would have to redirect its agricultural exports.

This allowed the port to ship about a million tons of Ukrainian grain over the past four months, most of which arrived on barges along the Danube River. But with 20 times more blocked in Ukraine, and with the summer harvest season fast approaching in Romania itself and other countries that use Constanta for export, Dolgin said the pace of Ukrainian grain shipments through his port is likely to slow down.

“As the summer harvest in Romania picks up, all port operators will switch to Romanian grains,” he warned.

The Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Ukraine Markian Dmitrasevich is also concerned.

In his address to the European Parliament earlier this month, Dmitrasevich said that when operators from Constanta turn to European grain suppliers in the summer, “it will make exporting Ukrainian products even more difficult.”

Romanian and other EU officials have also expressed concern, lining up in recent weeks to pledge support.

At a recent visit to Kyiv with the leaders of France, Germany and ItalyRomanian President Klaus Iohannis said his country is looking for possible ways to overcome the “armament of Russia’s grain exports.”

“As part of the solution to food insecurity caused by Russia, Romania is actively involved in facilitating the transit of Ukrainian exports and serving as a hub for grain” to enter the traditional markets of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia, he said.

Solutions discussed in Kyiv, Iohannis said, included speeding up the delivery of Danube barges, speeding up their unloading at Romanian ports, new border crossings for Ukrainian grain trucks, and reopening a decommissioned railroad linking Romania with Ukraine and Moldova.

The Romanian analyst said finding alternative routes for Ukraine’s grain exports goes beyond private logistics companies or any single country, echoing Iohannis’ call in Kyiv for an international “coalition of the willing” to address the issue.

“The situation in Ukraine will not be resolved in the near future; the conflict may end tomorrow, but tensions will remain. … That is why it is necessary to consider and strengthen new transport routes,” said George Vulcanescu.

He said that in this sense, there are only three financially profitable routes for Ukrainian exports – through Romania, Poland or the Baltic countries.

However, he added, “port operators need financial support from the Romanian authorities, but the funding must come from the European Union.”

Vulcanescu said a combination of fast and “minimum, not maximum” investment is needed.

“Big investments cannot be made quickly – we need to look for quick solutions to expand the (existing) storage and handling capacities of Romanian ports,” he added. “If we want to help Ukraine now, we need to look for smaller investments to improve the infrastructure we already have.”

Comvex’s Dolgin said the operator wants to help as much as possible, but added: “We hope to see concrete action, not just statements in support of port operators.”

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