Several European nations are considering sending naval vessels to escort Ukraine's grain exports, according to Estonian President Alar Karis.
"The U.K. and some others probably will join us, because it's a humanitarian crisis which we are facing if the grain doesn’t get out of the country," Karis said in an interview with Bloomberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The development comes after the EU canceled or significantly reduced import taxes on Ukrainian agricultural products. Often called "the breadbasket of Europe," Ukraine is the world's seventh largest producer of wheat, according to 2019 statistics, producing more than 28 million metric tons or 4% of the global total, and also is among the largest exporters of corn, sunflower seeds, and barley.
The naval warships presumably would sail into the Black Sea and escort Ukrainian cargo ships loaded with grain. Since the start of the war in February, Russia blockaded all naval exports from Ukraine, which sold more than $27 billion of agricultural products to the world in 2021, particularly Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Karis said there's some skepticism from some European nations that worry about a potential escalation of the conflict. Others are willing and able, although, he noted, this won't be a NATO operation.
Another emerging export issue is Ukrainian salt.
The largest manufacturer of salt in Europe halted all production in late April. Even though the company, Artemsil, had time to move all stock from its factories in Donbas, it won’t be enough to supply the company’s major European buyers.
Artemsil CEO Viktor Yurin told Vilne radio about the closure of the factory in Soledor of the Donetsk region.
"Our factory is empty because of the war. The artillery strikes are constant, and any production is impossible. We won't put our employees in harm's way and, regardless, most of the residents of Soledar have evacuated," Yurin said.
"We are the biggest in Europe. Our regular clients, who rely on us, include Hungary, Poland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Romania."
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