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Monday, January 25

China Vacuums Up Ukraine’s Grain…Low Oil Prices Cut Ukraine’s Import Bill by One Third…2020 Was a Lost Year for FDI…Turks Look at Chornomorsk…Covid Falls, Restaurants, Stores and Gyms Reopen Today
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

China’s imports of Ukrainian grain are soaring during this marketing year, the Ukrainian Grain Association reports, citing figures released Thursday at an Agro meeting at Ukraine’s Embassy in Beijing. In the first seven months of the grain marketing year, China has imported 6.9 million tons from Ukraine – more than the 6.3 million tons imported during the 2019/2020 marketing year. During the 2020 calendar year, China was the largest importer of Ukrainian grain, buying 20% of Ukraine’s total exports of $9.4 billion, said Serhiy Ivashchenko, acting executive director of the Ukrainian Grain Association.

After the United States, Ukraine was the world’s second largest grain exporter in the marketing year that ended June 30, Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Economy, told the International Grains Council last week. Citing USDA figures, Kachka said Ukraine ranked 2nd in barley exports, 4th in corn exports and 5th in wheat exports. After a poor harvest this fall, Ukraine may fall behind. During the first seven months of the current marketing year, exports are down by 6.3 million tons, a drop of almost 19% yoy.

DHL and Ukrzaliznytsia plans to develop China-bound trade from UZ’s left bank rail wagon marshalling yard at Liski, Logistics Manager, an Asia-oriented logistics news site, reports in a story headlined: “Full Steam Ahead for Ukraine & China to Drive Rail Connectivity.” Freight from Ukraine’s neighbors can be consolidated in Kyiv for shipping east in container trains. “There is a lot of excitement for those watching trade developments between China and Ukraine,” says Steve Huang, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding Greater China. “Further to China’s newly-established position as Ukraine’s top trading partner, recent reports have revealed Ukraine’s plans to start negotiations on a free trade agreement with China.”

Ukraine saved $3.4 billion last year on oil imports, cutting its import bill by 36% yoy, reports the State Customs Service. In volume terms, Ukraine cut imports by 5%, to 8 million tons. Top suppliers were: Russia – $1.2 billion; Belarus – $1.2 billion; Lithuania — $400 million.

Industrial production dropped last year by 5% yoy, reports the State Statistics Service. Manufacturing was down 7%. Other big drops were: coal mining down 13%; and electricity generation down 6.6%. On the upside, steel was up 6.5% and cement was up 7%. In 2019, industrial production was down 1.8%, cancelling out a 1.1% growth in 2018.

Net foreign direct investment in Ukraine was the worst in 20 years, Lenna Koszarny Founding Partner and CEO of Horizon Capital, said Friday at a discussion of the draft National Economic Strategy 2030. Looking at negative flows for first nine months, she said: “We hope that net FDI will go to zero.” To get Ukraine on a growth track, she said the government’s goal should be: judicial reform, capital market reforms and investment reforms.

Last year’s remittances from Ukrainian workers abroad totaled $12 billion — almost five times the net direct foreign investment of $2.5 million. In 2018, net FDI added up to $2.4 billion. Kyrylo Kryvolap, Executive Director of the Center for Economic Recovery, said that since independence, Ukraine’s economy has attracted $50 billion in FDI, while Poland attracted over the same period $240 billion.

Despite coronavirus travel controls, worker remittances are expected to be near last year’s level. Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service reports that 35% of the 11,250,000 border crossings out of Ukraine last year were to Poland. While Ukrainians were largely barred from visiting the EU for tourism in 2020, travel was permitted for work. Outbound crossings were: Poland – 4 million; Hungary – 1.6 million; Russia – 1 million; Turkey – 965,000; Egypt – 730,000; Romania – 626,000; Belarus – 496,000; Slovakia – 336,000; Moldova – 328,000; Germany – 222,000; and UAE – 100,000. Ukraine received 3.4 million foreigners, 30% of the outbound flow.

The sale of large state companies starts this year and will not be reversed, Prime Minister Shmygal vowed Friday at the meeting to debate the National Economic Strategy through 2030. He added: “Investors have liquidity today. Objects for privatization in Ukraine are extremely interesting.” He said planned companies for sale this year include: three regional power generators, five combined heat and power plants, the Bolshevik plant, the Odessa Port Plant, the United Mining and Chemical Company, and the President Hotel.

To promote investment into Ukraine, UkraineInvest is creating up to 70 information offices in Ukrainian embassies around the world, Serhiy Tsivkach, executive director of the Investment Promotion Agency, said at the National Economic Strategy meeting. The agency is working with the Foreign Ministry and the Ukrainian World Congress. Ukraine has 78 embassies and 45 consulates.

Turkish companies are interested in investing in Chornomorsk container terminal and  railway and ferry complex, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy reports after meeting Thursday with executives of three Turkish companies: Busserk, Çalık Holding, and NIKO Group. One of Ukraine’s busiest black sea ports, Chornomorsk has a car ferry to Derince, near Istanbul.

DTEK Renewables plans to launch solar and wind projects in the EU as early as this year, DTEK Renewables CEO Maris Kunickis tells Bloomberg in an article headlined: “DTEK Looks Abroad After Ukraine Backtracks on Green Support.” Behind DTEK’s drive to diversify, Bloomberg writes: “In 2020, government only paid for 50% of produced energy to renewable producers. The retroactive cut jeopardizes Ukraine’s goal of having a 25% share of renewables in electricity production in 2035.”

Ukrainians bought two thirds of their long-distance train tickets online last year, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. By buying 12.9 million tickets through the Internet, at booking.uz.gov.ua, travelers had easy access to fares, seat selection and discounts. Two weeks ago, UZ launched ticket sales through Viber and Telegram, facilitated by chatbots. On the first day, 17,000 people took advantage of the new service.

The longest train ride in Ukraine is also one of its five most popular, reports Ukrzaliznytsia. Every day, Train No. 45 sets off from Uzhgorod or Lysychansk, Luhansk, ambling across Ukraine making at least 40 stops and averaging 53 km/hour (33 mph). The train takes 31 hours and 15 minutes to travel 1,653 km, slight longer that the distance from Marseilles to Berlin. Last year, 461,500 people rode the train, most for small segments.

Restaurants, gyms and shopping centers reopen in Ukraine today as the nation emerges from the coronavirus lockdown-imposed Jan. 8. Registered new infections are running at about 5,000 a day, about one third the peak of two months ago. “Epidemiologists record the stabilization of the situation,” Prime Minister Shmygal wrote Saturday on Facebook. “The number of occupied beds has decreased to less than 30%.” Kyiv city has a 32% occupancy rate of coronavirus beds and the nation’s fourth highest infection rate – 297/100,000 people.

Ukraine imported a record amount of wine last year — $180 million. Top supplying countries are: Italy – $ 29 million; France – $ 27.5 million; and Georgia – $26 million. Over the last decade, Ukraine’s wine production dropped in half, partly due to the loss of Crimea, partly to due to red tape blocking small producers, and partly due to imports. EU exports to Ukraine are expected to increase this year after duties dropped to zero on Jan. 1.

Editor’s Note: Ukraine’s two largest renewable investors – DTEK and NBT — plan to make their next investments outside of Ukraine. TIU Canada, once one of the biggest foreign cheerleaders for investing in Ukraine, is suing Ihor Kolomoisky for pulling the plug on its solar plant. Wind and solar — Ukraine’s top bricks and mortar investment story of 2017-2019 – is over. Outside of Ukraine, Bloomberg reports that investors last year spent $291 billion last year to build 205 GW of wind and solar worldwide. It is nice to have meetings in Kyiv to draw up blueprints to double Ukraine’s economy in a decade. But the first step is to get straight with investors who are already here. With Best Regards, Jim Brooke

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Friday, August 14 – Nationwide Safety Checks Start on Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer

Nationwide Safety Checks Start on Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer...Behind the Blast: Russian Businessman Abandoned Ship, Cargo, and Ukrainian Crew in Beirut...Avangard May Close Egg Farms in Coming Weeks...Ukraine to Create Domestic Airline Based on Antonov Regional Jets...US Threatens to Stop Sending Oil to Belarus Through Odesa..
James Brooke
by James Brooke
UBN Morning News is reported and written by James Brooke, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Bloomberg Moscow Bureau Chief

By Sept. 15, all of Ukraine’s ports are to complete “extraordinary measures for government supervision” of the import, handling and storage of ammonium nitrate, Prime Minister Shmygal has ordered. The explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port killed 171 people, wounded 6,500, left 250,000 homeless and cause $15 billion to the port alone.

Ukraine, Europe’s largest food exporter, is a major importer of ammonium nitrate, a key component of fertilizers. Last year, Ukraine imported 716,000 tons, at least seven times the volume of 2016, according to the State Statistics Service. Coming from Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania, the chemical compound enters through a dozen ports – from Izmail to Mariupol. Inside the country, there are more than 600 warehouses for ammonium nitrate, Andriy Miselyuk, director of Dialogue Institute for Socio-Political Design, writes on his Facebook page.

At Pivdennyi, Ukraine’s busiest port, 9,600 tons of ammonium nitrate are stored “in accordance with all norms and standards,” the seaport administration says in a statement. The compound is “packed in big bags” at berths No. 1 and 2. “In this case, it is not explosive,” the port asserts, that bulk handling of the compound is dangerous. During the first six months of production, the chances of explosion are low. Ukraine consumes 1.5-2 million tons a year, an amount that makes for a steady rotation of stock. The Beirut stockpile, entirely in bags, was seven years old when it blew up.

Behind the devastating Beirut port explosion was a Russian business man who abandoned his ship, his 8-man Ukrainian crew and his cargo of ammonium nitrate in Beirut in 2013, according to a Reuters story, reported by 12 journalists in 11 cities, from Moscow to Panama City. Police questioned the de facto owner, Igor Grechushkin, aged 43, at his home in Cyprus about the cargo. The ship’s captain Boris Prokoshev, told Reuters from his home in Sochi that he sees Grechushkin and the ship’s charterer, Teto Shipping Ltd, as the same entity. Based in the Marshall Islands, Teto was dissolved in 2014.

Flying the flag of Moldova, a landlocked nation, the ship, the Rhosus, was loaded in Sept. 2013 with 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate produced by Rustavi Azot, a nitrogen producer in Georgia. The cargo was destined for a commercial explosives factory in Mozambique. En route, it developed a leak and docked in Beirut. Four months earlier, safety inspectors in Seville, Spain detained the Rhosus for a series of safety violations, including a corroded deck. In Beirut, Grechushkin ordered the captain to load heavy road building equipment on the deck, reports according to 112.ua.

With the Rhosus disabled by the leak, Grechushkin abandoned the ship and the crew, both news agencies report. Four crew members were forced by Lebanese officials to stay on the ship for 11 months to prevent it from sinking. After a sailors aid group flew them home to Ukraine, the ship sank. According to Prokoshev, the captain, Grechushkin owes at least $150,000 in unpaid salaries. According to 112.ia, Grechushkin lives in Cyprus with his wife Irina, and their son, a student  at a private university in Scotland. Although Cyprus is a 45-minute flight or a 2-hour ferry ride from Beirut, the captain said Grechushkin never came to Beirut to check on the boat. The blast was so massive it was heard — and felt — in Cyprus, 200 km across the Mediterranean.

IFC is supplying a $35 million loan to help Galnaftogaz to improve its supply of fertilizer and fuels to small farmers. The Lviv-based company has pioneered allowing farmers to buy fertilizer and seeds in the spring, paying forward with ‘crop receipts,’ or liens on fall harvests. Galnaftogaz, with 357 OKKO-branded filling stations, is Ukraine’s largest fuel retailer. The loan from IFC, a World Bank unit, will also finance installation of fast-charging stations for electric vehicles.

After good weather in eastern and central Ukraine, the USDA has raised its Ukraine harvest forecasts to: 27 million tons of wheat, and 39.5 million tons of corn. “Yields are expected to be the second highest on record, with a previous record of 7.84 tons per hectare in 2018,” writes the US Department of Agriculture.

Ukraine’s Avangard, Europe’s largest egg producer, may close six of its 20 farms, cutting production by 20% by mid-October, reports Poultry World. UkrLandFarming, Avangard’s parent company, may have to lay off 2,500 employees. Avangard owner Oleg Bakhmatyuk says that due to ongoing court cases against him, he is unable to get bank loans. In 2010, Avangard raised $187.5 million in an IPO on the London Stock Exchange. But Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and occupation of half of Ukraine’s Donbas resulted in Avangard losing valuable properties. Although Avangard produced 2.6 billion eggs in 2018, its debt is estimated at $2 billion.

Next year, Ukraine will create a domestic airline based on a fleet of regional jets produced by Kyiv’s Antonov, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy said yesterday on a visit to Kharkiv State Aircraft Manufacturing Company. “Aircraft manufactured by Antonov will be used for regional transportation,” he said. To boost domestic air travel, Ukraine is abolishing the 20% VAT tax on domestic tickets. Last year, 16 of Ukraine’s 54 civilian airports carried passengers — on scheduled or charter flights. About 5 million people flew out of regional airports.

Betting that corona travel restrictions will ease, SkyUp announces seven new international routes for its winter schedule. Starting Oct. 25, Ukraine’s discount carrier will fly from Kyiv Boryspil to Amman, Belgrade, Bratislava, Belgrade, and Stockholm. It will also start Kharkiv-Dubai and Lviv-Dubai. On Sept. 26, it will start Kyiv-Dubai, a route that is to become five times a week.

Starting today, Ukraine’s new electronic visa platform launches at this address: https://evisa.mfa.gov.ua/. Citizens of India, the Philippines and South Africa will be able to get electronic visas for travel to Ukraine for business, tourism, medical treatment, culture, science, education, sports, and journalism. The e-visa should be printed out to show at border control.

After Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko cracked down violently in the wake Sunday’s presidential election, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is considering ending oil shipments to Belarus. Most come through Klaipėda, Lithuania, to the Naftan refinery, in northeast Belarus. Several shipments of US oil have come this year through Odesa to Belarus’ southern refinery, in Mazyr, 50 km north of Ukraine. So far this year, Odesa has handled six tanker loads of oil for Belarus, largely from Azerbaijan.

From the Editor: One month ago, I ruffled feathers with news items gathered under the headline: “Will Russia Launch a Military Attack on Ukraine in August?” Now it seems my premonition of a Russian August surprise was off — by a couple of degrees. In Belarus, yesterday’s walkouts from big state-owned companies strengthen calls for a national strike. That could be Lukashenko’s endgame. With the White House distracted in the 81-day runup to the US presidential vote, Moscow could easily pull a Prague 1968 – roll in tanks to restore ‘order.’ Timothy Ash writes: “The Ukrainians are very concerned. They think the Russians’ game plan is take over Belarus, roll tanks up to the border with Ukraine, and then max pressure on Ukraine from the North and East.” Also from London, Keir Giles, writes a Chatham House essay: Watching Belarus Means Watching Russia Too. In Russian intervenes militarily in Belarus, “Ukraine would be forced to rapidly re-orient its defense posture to face a new threat from the north.” With Best Regards Jim Brooke