Turkey is seeking to broker a grain corridor from Ukraine across the Black Sea as part of a United Nations-backed effort to avert a food crisis.
Ukraine is a major grain exporter to Africa and the Middle East. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict drags on, disruption to the shipments is pushing prices higher, fuelling an international shortage of food, Xinhua news agency reported.
Meanwhile, international maritime insurance companies have placed the region on a “high risk” list, which would result in significantly higher shipping prices for agricultural products.
The United Nations had already appealed to Russia and Ukraine, as well as NATO member Turkey to agree to a maritime corridor to export grain from Ukraine. Turkey has authority over maritime traffic entering and leaving the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Strait.
Experts said any Turkish-brokered grain corridor would involve cargo vessels leaving Black Sea ports such as the Ukrainian city of Odessa with a Turkish naval escort, before travelling towards Turkey and on to global markets.
“Even if an agreement is reached soon, there are logistical challenges, such as getting ships ready, demining the zone, and preparing the legal basis of such an operation,” Murat Onsoy, a scholar from Ankara’s Hacettepe University, told Xinhua.
However, the UN-backed plan is the most feasible one compared to alternative trade routes through Poland or Romania, Onsoy said, adding that given the vast quantities involved, the majority of Ukrainian grain has always been transported by sea rather than road or rail.
“Time is of the essence, but we are already running very late” as Ukraine’s stranded wheat and corn may rot before a viable solution is reached, the scholar added.
Turkey, which has good relations with both Kiev and Moscow, made efforts early in the conflict to act as a mediator between the two sides.
Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Russian and Eurasian affairs, also insisted on the urgency of the matter to avoid a food crisis of global proportions.
Even though it is not an organic item that rots quickly, millions of tons of wheat and corn cannot wait for months, he said, calling for “goodwill from parties involved.”