Ukraine has signed a deal with U.S. agriculture giant Cargill to build a major grain-export terminal that Washington's ambassador said could help turn the embattled country into an agricultural "superpower."
The $100 million deal with Ukraine's M.V. Cargo firm came despite jitters over a political crisis in Kyiv this year and an ongoing conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east.
"Ukraine is already one of the world's great agricultural producers, but it should be an agricultural superpower," U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said at a signing ceremony for the deal on February 24.
About a quarter of the world's black-earth land is in Ukraine, making it a natural global center for food production, and agricultural exports already reached $16.5 billion in 2015, he said, urging Kyiv to stay on the path of economic reform to attract more such deals.
Major global corporations like Cargill "are looking for a government and a presidency that demonstrates a clear commitment to continued progress on the rule of law, to include the critical issue of anticorruption reform," he said.
Ukrainian officials said the agreement marked an important show of trust in Ukraine's future by a top corporation.
"This was a first step made by Ukraine that makes our American partners see us as a truly reliable and good place for making investments," Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.
Agriculture Minister Oleksiy Pavlenko said Ukraine -- for centuries one of Europe's great breadbaskets -- expects to export a record 37 million tons of grain between July 2015 and June 2016.
Ukrainian officials said the new grain port in the Odesa region will have an initial annual loading capacity of 5 million tons, and could later be expanded by about 50 percent.
Cargill said it expects the terminal's construction to be completed in about two years.
"This new port will benefit Ukrainian farmers, the overall economy and global food security," Cargill executive Andreas Rickmers said. "It will add to our footprint of port facilities in the Black Sea region and confirms our intention to keep investing in Ukraine's agricultural sector."
Cargill is a 150-year-old food conglomerate that operates around 500 cargo vessels a day. Forbes magazine has ranked it as the largest U.S. unlisted company.
With reporting by AFP and Interfax