Poland expects more Ukraine grain at borders after Russia quits Black Sea deal

By Marek Strzelecki

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is willing to help more Ukraine grain transit through the country following the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal after Russia abandoned it, but it will take time and the European Union needs to help, the agriculture minister said on Tuesday.

Warsaw closed its border to imports of Ukrainian grain in April after protests from farmers who said their own supplies had decreased in value because of the added competition.

Accusing Russia of using “grain as ammunition,” Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said Warsaw was willing to improve transit through Poland because grain could not be shipped via the sea, but said the European Union needed to help with infrastructure.

He also said the harvest in Poland had only just begun and extra transit would not happen immediately.

“We have to force the EU to help improve infrastructure,” he said.

EU officials on Tuesday said they were seeking greater use of what they refer to as solidarity lanes, or road and rail links through Ukraine’s neighbours.

Protests from farmers from other nations bordering Ukraine, as well as in Poland, where the issue is especially sensitive in an election year, led Brussels in May to agree to restrict land imports of Ukrainian grain, allowing only transit shipments.

Telus, who will meet his counterparts from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova on Wednesday, said Warsaw would push for an extension of the embargo on Ukrainian grain imports beyond Sept. 15. It has already been extended.

Krzysztof Ardanowski, a former agriculture minister and presidential adviser, told Reuters the collapse of the Black Sea deal would be disastrous for Poland, as logistics has not improved over the last 12 months.

“Capacity at the ports hasn’t changed, the number of railway and road connections hasn’t increased,” Ardanowski said.

“Countries bordering Ukraine will come under pressure to open the borders, but at the same time I’m not hearing any new logistics proposal from the European Commission.”

(Reporting by Marek Strzelecki; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Barbara Lewis)