In the wake of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain corridor agreement and the consequent suspension of Ukrainian grain exports through the sea route, Kyiv finds itself compelled to explore alternative avenues for delivering its agricultural products to world markets.
The suspension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative poses formidable challenges for Ukrainian grain exporters, prompting a search for alternative routes to maintain a steady flow of agricultural products to world markets. The Danube, EU Solidarity Lanes, and exploration of the Baltic and Balkan routes present viable options. However, each option comes with its unique set of limitations and costs. According to Argus Media, discontinuing the use of Black Sea ports routes could reduce Ukraine’s monthly export potential by approximately half, from 7-8 million tons to 4 million tons, while also introducing logistical complexities.
Ukrainian ports along the Danube River, bordering Romania, present a viable alternative route for grain exports. In the past year, the volume of grain exported along the Danube has increased from 1.4 million tons to 2 million tons per month. In 2022, investments in Ukrainian Danube ports reached $15 million. The Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority prepared infrastructure in Izmail and Reni, facilitating container transshipment and additional port capacities. However, recent events have raised concerns about the viability and security of this route as well. Russian aggression has not been confined to the Black Sea region, as demonstrated by recent attacks on the Danube port infrastructure, targeting the ports of Ismail and Reni. These assaults serve as a stark reminder that the Danube route could also fall victim to the same fate as its Black Sea counterpart.
THE EU SOLIDARITY LANES
In May 2022, the European Commission launched the Solidarity Lanes Action Plan to establish alternative routes for Ukrainian exports via rail, road and inland waterways. These ran through Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Mobilizing additional rolling stocks, vessels, trucks, and improving transport networks and transshipment terminals have enabled exporting around 4 million tons of grain and oilseeds monthly, accounting for 60% of Ukraine’s wartime export.
After Russia pulled out from the grain deal, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the bloc is ready to export almost all of Ukraine’s agriculture goods. However, the effort is complicated by political pressure from farmers in several of Kyiv’s EU neighbors, who fear that some of the Ukrainian grain will be diverted to their domestic markets, driving down prices for their own crops.
BALTIC AND BALKAN ROUTES
The Baltic States officially asked the European Commission for help with increasing the railway capacity for the Baltic route port. The Baltic route involves transporting grain through Poland to seaports in the Baltic states. This route offers an annual export capacity of 25 million tons, though logistical expenses are expected to be higher.
Similarly, the Balkan route has been proposed, with Croatia offering its rail network and Adriatic Sea ports as an alternative route for Ukrainian grain. While the potential export volumes may be limited compared to Ukraine’s needs, additional opportunities arise through the involvement of neighboring countries such as Montenegro.
Although alternative routes offer potential solutions, they are unlikely to fully replace the capacity of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which administered 7 million tons of grain and oilseeds pre-war. While the existing routes provide essential support, significant investments and expansion will be required to meet Ukraine’s grain export demands effectively.