By Michelle Nichols
(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that temporary silos would be built along the border with Ukraine in a bid to help export more grain and address a growing global food crisis.
Since the Russian invasion and blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, grain shipments have stalled and more than 20 million tonnes are stuck in silos. Ukraine says it faces a shortage of silos for a new crop.
The war is stoking prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil and Russia a key fertilizer exporter.
“I’m working closely with our European partners to get 20 million tons of grain locked in Ukraine out onto the market to help bring down food prices,” Biden told a Philadelphia union convention. “It can’t get out through the Black Sea because it’ll get blown out of the water.”
Since the war started, Ukraine and Russia have laid sea mines. Some 84 foreign ships are stuck in Ukrainian ports – many with grain cargoes onboard.
Biden said Washington was developing a plan to get grain out by rail, but noted Ukrainian track gauges were different from those in Europe, so the grain has to be transferred to different trains at the border.
“So we’re going to build silos, temporary silos, on the borders of Ukraine, including in Poland,” Biden said.
Grain could be transferred from Ukrainian railway cars into the new silos, and then onto European freight cars to “get it out to the ocean and get it across the world,” he said, adding the plan was taking time.
“This is just one of the possibly useful steps in ensuring food security. But we also need a green corridor for our ports,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in an online post.
Ukraine’s agriculture ministry on Tuesday said European countries were considering providing temporary silos to “preserve the harvest and secure future grain supplies”.
Ukraine says the best way to get grain exports moving again is through Black Sea shipments.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume Ukrainian Black Sea exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says had been hit by sanctions. The U.N. has so far described talks with Russia as “constructive.”
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa;Editing by Bill Berkrot and Stephen Coates)