EU hails progress on restoring Ukrainian food exports

Fertilisers are the next big challenge, says EU commission

EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. EPA
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The EU on Friday said it had helped Ukraine to reach levels of grain exports that are close to pre-war numbers, but gave a warning that the ongoing conflict leaves European farmers at risk of a shortage of fertilisers.

Ukrainian Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Mykola Solskiy informed European agriculture ministers gathered for a meeting in Prague that his country’s grain exports had reached 4.5 million tonnes in August, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, said.

“We have the same data in the European commission,” Mr Wojciechowski told reporters following the meeting which Mr Solskiy attended virtually.

Mr Solskiy’s predecessor Roman Leschchenko informed the EU in March that Ukraine’s grain exports had dropped from an average of five million tonnes a month to 200,000 tonnes after Russia’s invasion, according to Mr Wojciechowski.

Ukraine used to be the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat and the disruption of its crop production, storage and export has had wide-ranging knock-on effects on food security across the world.

Mr Wojciechowski said that Ukraine’s recent increase in exports was largely due to the EU’s so-called “solidarity lanes” established in May to help Ukraine export its agricultural produce through its land borders with Poland and Romania.

They were a “successful initiative,” he said.

Most of August’s grain exports ― 3.5 million tonnes ― went through these solidarity lanes last month, said the EU’s agriculture commissioner. The rest was transported via the Black Sea.

Before the war, Ukraine used to export 90 per cent of its grain and oilseeds via the Black Sea, the EU said.

Mr Wojciechowski's comments came one day after the US slapped sanctions on dozens of Russian and Ukrainian officials and a number of Russian companies for human rights abuses and the theft of Ukrainian grain.

“We don’t know what Russia will do next and therefore we need to strengthen the lanes that go across the Polish border or the Romanian border,” said Czech Agriculture Minister Zedenek Nekula, who took part in a press conference with Mr Wojciechowski.

The EU also needs to focus on supporting farmers, who face skyrocketing energy bills and a shortage of fertilisers as a result of the war, said Mr Wojciechowski.

The European commission detailed on Wednesday its proposals to tackle energy costs and soaring inflation triggered by the war in Ukraine, including a windfall tax on fossil fuel producers and a cap on recent exceptional revenues made by energy firms with low production costs.

These measures are expected to be discussed among the bloc’s energy ministers at the end of the month.

The commission hopes to raise this way more than €140 billion for member states to redistribute among vulnerable households and industries.

Some of this money may be diverted to fertiliser producers, said Mr Wojciechowski.

“Fertiliser producers are mentioned in draft of regulation as companies that can be supported by member states as one of the most affected sectors,” he said. “This is chance to support producers of fertiliser and reduce prices for farmers.”

EU states also have the possibility of supporting individual farms affected by the war with up to €35,000 as part of an aid package unveiled by the commission in March.

Agriculture ministers will further discuss food security in Brussels on September 26.

Updated: September 16, 2022, 6:00 PM