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Deal that allows Ukraine to export grain across the Black Sea has been extended

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ukraine has been known as the breadbasket of the world for its abundant production of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. But when Russia's attack on Ukraine crippled the country's ability to export its products, prices went up, making it harder for people around the world to afford food. Last year, in an effort to alleviate the situation, the European Commission launched its Solidarity Lanes action plan to create alternative routes for Ukrainian agricultural products. Soon after, Russia and Ukraine signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed Ukraine to export 30 million tons of grain and other agricultural products.

We wanted to hear more about how this project is going and the impact it has had. So we've called Adina Valean. She is European Commissioner for Transport and one of the leaders of the EU's implementation of the Solidarity Lanes.

Commissioner, welcome.

ADINA VALEAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Tell me more about the Solidarity Lanes action plan.

VALEAN: Immediately after the start of the war, Ukraine and Moldova - they were completely blocked with their export/imports. The only possibility to exit was through the European Union front lines. And we decided immediately to help them establish new connectivity routes for exports and imports. But we found out very soon that there are missing links and hurdles because if we talk about rail, these countries, Ukraine and Moldova - they have the width of the gauge bigger than the European standard because the Soviet time, and then you cannot have easy cross border with a train from Ukraine, Moldova to European Union. But we worked on that and all this infrastructure is there to stay.

MARTIN: Obviously, this is a response to a crisis. But just from a market standpoint, do you think the European Union has benefited?

VALEAN: It's a double benefit. Without these cross-border links, Ukraine won't be able to import. They won't be able to get humanitarian help or other products needed in their economy. Of course, European Union is the first provider for all of these goods Ukraine needs, but it's also the other way around. Let's not forget that a part of this market exchange, these corridors of transportation, are also a transit traders from Ukraine, farmers - they need to send their products to the global market. So without this transit, Black Sea Initiative won't be enough. Sixty percent of the total of the grains Ukraine exported were through the Solidarity Lanes, not Black Sea Initiative, in the last year.

MARTIN: It's also my understanding that there is not sort of universal approval for this. For example, some of the farmers in the EU are concerned that their products are being disadvantaged to the advantage of Ukraine. Is that not the case?

VALEAN: Well, it's a complex situation. It's not because the Ukrainian grains storages are full in Poland or in Romania. This is because the traders in Poland and Romania chose to buy those grains. But this is not Ukraine to be blamed that it's selling on the market.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, Commissioner, I'm just wondering, when you look back on your tenure here, what do you think if we look back on this, like, five years from now - what will we see as the major accomplishment?

VALEAN: Honestly, I think this is a legacy, and I'm proud of what we have done here. It represents a growth of European Union, of integrating naturally its neighbors from Ukraine and Moldova.

MARTIN: We've been speaking with Adina Valean. She's the European commissioner for transport. She's one of the leaders of the EU's implementation of Solidarity Lanes.

Commissioner Valean, thank you so much for taking the time.

VALEAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.