OTTAWA — Canada is poised to send cargo ships to ports in Romania and neighbouring countries to help Ukraine get its wheat to Africa and the Middle East, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Monday.
Speaking after meetings with G7 and EU counterparts in Germany and Belgium, Joly said: "We are on this. We are in solution mode and it's Canada's contribution to making sure that we participate in this great mission of freeing the Ukrainian wheat."
Her remarks came as International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan warned that Russia is deliberately barring Ukrainian wheat exports so it can falsely blame western countries for creating hunger in developing nations.
Sajjan, a former defence minister, said Russia is spreading misinformation that the West is responsible for blocking ports and grain exports to foster dissent and increase its own sphere of influence in the developing world.
"They are trying to garner this false narrative," Sajjan said in an interview. "Ukraine is a bread basket for the developing world."
Ukraine is one of the world's largest wheat and sunflower oil producers with many countries, including Lebanon and Bangladesh, relying on shipments.
Sajjan said exports via ports such as Odesa and by rail were now impossible and Ukraine cannot get its wheat to countries that rely on it as a staple food.
Ukraine's ambassador to Canada told MPs earlier this month that Russian troops have not only been blocking ports but raiding Ukrainian wheat stores and destroying farm machinery.
The conflict has prompted warnings from the World Food Program that developing nations in Africa and the Middle East that rely on Ukrainian grain might go hungry.
Julie Marshall, a spokeswoman for the UN agency, said Ukraine produces "enough to feed around 400 million people around the world, but right now millions of metric tons of grain are sitting in silos and stranded on ships unable to move because of the conflict."
"The conflict in Ukraine is compounding what is already a year of unprecedented hunger, transforming a series of terrible hunger crises into a global food crisis," said Marshall.
Joly said that Canada's agriculture minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, has attended a meeting of G7 agriculture ministers to develop the plans to ship Ukrainian wheat.
The foreign minister said Canada, as one of the world's biggest wheat exporters, has a great deal of expertise and wants to step in to help.
Joly also said Canada plans to swiftly ratify the entry of Finland and Sweden to NATO, which could be done directly by the government. Even so, the minister said she has held talks with the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP, which have indicated support.
Acceptance into NATO requires unanimous consent among its members.
Turkey, a member of the alliance, has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden's applications to join, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he does not have "favourable thoughts" about their entry into the strategic defence alliance.
Turkey has alleged they have supported "terrorist organizations," in an apparent reference to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as expressing concern about export restrictions.
Joly said she told her Turkish counterparts that right now the issue of Finland and Sweden joining NATO "is more important than bilateral issues."
"We can find a way to address the concerns of Turkey while understanding that more is at stake, including the fact that Finland and Sweden are particularly vulnerable," she said.
Joly said the two states are "under massive disinformation campaigns that have been launched by the Russian regime against them but also against their nationals."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press