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Ukraine Could Amp Use of Alternative Grain Export Port

FILE: A combine harvests wheat is in action on a field near Novosofiivka village, Mykolaiv region on July 4, 2023. With Russian hesitancy to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Ukraine is looking at Romania as a point of exportation of its grain to Africa and other markets.

BUCHAREST — Ukraine's on-off Black Sea grain deal has made the nearest port of Constanta in neighboring Romania a key alternative that is set for volumes doubling its record years and months of delays with a domestic crop looming, industry experts and traders said.

With no new ships registered under the deal since June 26, and a further extension uncertain, Ukrainian officials have said shipping via Romania's Black Sea port of Constanta will be critically important.

Since the start of the war, Constanta has handled a third of Ukraine's total grain exports of just under 49 million tons.

Romanian port operators shipped 8.6 million tons last year, and 6.3 million tons in the first five months of 2023, the Constanta Port authority told Reuters. The port handled 12.17 million tons of grains overall in the first five months, a 21% jump on the year.

Cezar Gheorghe of Romanian grain market consultancy AGRIColumn told Reuters "We are off harvesting season now and still Constanta is suffocating."

Gheorghe estimated up to 27 million tons of Ukrainian grains and oilseeds could be sent through Constanta in the 2023/2024 season even if the corridor is extended, competing with 20-21 million tons from a promising Romanian harvest.

Combined, the two flows would almost double the 25 million tons of grain that Constanta handled annually at its peak, leading to congestion and delays.

"Exporters are already no longer signing contracts with Constanta delivery for July-August, there is no more room, a lot of grain is expected to arrive," Gheorghe said, adding "Contracts are being signed with delivery in September."

Ukraine, one of the world's leading grain and oilseed exporters, saw its Black Sea ports blocked after Russia's invasion in February 2022.

It regained limited access to three of its ports under a deal brokered last July by the United Nations and Turkey, which has been extended three times but is due to expire this month. Presently, Russia is signaling that it is unwilling to extend the grain deal.