BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — The European Commission plans to establish “Solidarity Lanes” to ensure Ukraine can export grain and import the goods it needs, from humanitarian aid to animal feed and fertilizers.
As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukrainian ports, grain and other agricultural goods cannot reach their destinations.
Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean said 20 million tonnes of grain have to leave Ukraine in less than three months using EU infrastructure.
“This is a gigantesque challenge, so it is essential to coordinate and optimize the logistic chains, put in place new routes, and avoid, as much as possible, the bottlenecks,” Valean said. “Our communication addresses the emergency solutions but also medium and long-time measures to better connect and integrate Ukraine’s infrastructure with the EU one. For both short-term and long-term solutions, we will work with the Ukrainian authorities and in close collaboration, especially with the neighboring member states, who spared no effort in helping during this crisis.”
Thousands of railcars and trucks are waiting for clearance on the Ukrainian side. The average current waiting time for railcars is 16 days, while it is up to 30 days at some borders. More grain is still stored and held back in Ukrainian silos ready for export. Among the challenges are differing rail gauge widths: Ukrainian railcars are not compatible with most of the EU rail network, so most goods need to be transshipped to trucks or railcars that fit the EU standard gauge. This process is time-consuming and transshipment facilities along the borders are scarce.
To address these obstacles and set up the Solidarity Lanes, the commission, together with member states and stakeholders, will work on the following priority actions in the short term:
Additional freight rolling stock, vessels and trucks: The commission calls on EU market players to urgently make additional vehicles available. In order to match demand and supply and establish the relevant contacts, the commission will set up a matchmaking logistics platform and ask member states to designate dedicated Solidarity Lanes contact points (a one-stop-shop).
Capacity of transport networks and transshipment terminals: Ukrainian agricultural export shipments should be prioritized, and infrastructure managers should make rail slots available for these exports. The commission also calls on market players to urgently transfer mobile grain loaders to the relevant border terminals to speed up transshipment. A road transport agreement with Ukraine also will remove bottlenecks. To encourage EU transport operators to allow their vehicles to enter Ukraine, the commission also will investigate options for top-up financial guarantees.
Customs operations and other inspections: The commission urges national authorities to apply maximum flexibility and to ensure adequate staffing to accelerate procedures at border crossing points.
Storage of goods on the territory of the EU: The commission will assess available storage capacity in the EU and coordinate with member states to help secure more capacity for temporary storage of Ukrainian exports.
In the medium to long term, the commission also will work on increasing the infrastructure capacity of new export corridors and on establishing new infrastructure connections in the framework of the reconstruction of Ukraine. The next round of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) calls for proposals that will allow support for projects improving transport connections to Ukraine, including for railway connections and rail-road terminals. Against this background, the commission adopted a decision with a view to signing a high-level agreement with Ukraine, updating the maps for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), as part of the Commission's policy on extending the TEN-T to neighboring countries.
For more coverage of the Ukraine conflict, click here.