The European Commission (EC) has plans to set up “Solidarity Lanes” to ensure Ukraine can export grain and import essential goods, including humanitarian aid, animal feed and fertilisers, World Grain wrote.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February and its subsequent blockage of Ukrainian ports, grains and other agricultural goods have been unable to reach their destinations.

Around 20M tonnes of grain need to leave Ukraine in less than three months using European Union (EU) infrastructure, according to Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean.

“This is a gigantic challenge, so it is essential to coordinate and optimise 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 neighbouring member states.”

Thousands of railway wagons and trucks are waiting for clearance on the Ukrainian side, according to the 13 May report, with the average waiting time for railcars currently 16 days, but up to 30 days at some borders. Further quantities of grain are still stored and held back in Ukrainian silos ready for export.

Challenges include different rail gauge widths, with Ukrainian railway wagons not compatible with most of the EU rail network, meaning most goods need to be trans-shipped to trucks or railway wagons that match the EU standard gauge. This process was time-consuming and trans-shipment facilities along the borders were scarce, World Grain wrote.

Short-term actions to address the obstacles and set up “Solidarity Lanes” would include calling on EU market players to urgently make additional freight rolling stock, vessels and trucks available.

To match supply and demand and establish relevant contacts, the commission said it would set up a match-making logistics platform and ask member states to designate dedicated Solidarity Lane contact points (a one-stop shop).

In addition, the commission said Ukrainian agricultural export shipments should be given priority, and infrastructure managers should make rail slots available for these exports.

The commission also called on market players to urgently transfer mobile grain loaders to the relevant border terminals to speed up trans-shipment. A road transport agreement with Ukraine would also remove bottlenecks. To encourage EU transport operators to allow their vehicles to enter Ukraine, the commission said it would also investigate options for top-up financial guarantees.

To accelerate procedures at border points, the commission urged national authorities to apply maximum flexibility and ensure adequate staffing.

The commission would also 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 would also work on increasing the infrastructure capacity of new export corridors and establish new infrastructure connections as part of the reconstruction of Ukraine.

The next round of Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) called for proposals that would support projects for improving transport connections to Ukraine, including for railway connections and rail-road terminals, World Grain wrote.

Against this background, the commission had proposed signing an agreement with Ukraine, to update maps for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), as part of the EC's policy on extending the TEN-T to neighbouring countries, the report said.