For nearly two decades, a sister city relationship has existed between Baltimore and Odessa, the Soviet Union's major international Black Sea port city in the Ukraine. Over the years, this link has had its ups and downs, depending on the political climate between the United States and the Soviet Union. But even in the best of times, it has rarely gone beyond ceremonial toasts, flowery declarations and occasional exchanges of delegations.
As a result of the changes that are going on in the Soviet Union, this relationship for the first time is showing promises of normal, regular contacts. One sign of this happening is the creation of the Odessa-Baltimore Trade Council to promote commerce between the two cities. That, in turn, prompted a visit to Baltimore this week by an eight-member delegation from Odessa which included municipal officials in charge of economic development and the city's major industries.
The visit could not have come at a more auspicious time. With President Bush approving $1.5 billion in agricultural loan guarantees and preparing to grant the Soviet Union a most-favored-nation status in tariffs, trade links between the two countries are certain to grow. In the meantime, the union treaty that is being worked out between the Kremlin and nine republics is likely to result in greater privatization and local control of industries keen on foreign trade. As trade grows, the ports of Baltimore and Odessa could be major beneficiaries.
There are hitches, however. The Odessa-based Black Sea Shipping Co., has been less than receptive to past entreaties from the Port of Baltimore. Now, however, that state-owned conglomerate, which is reputedly the world's largest shipping line, is in the process of transformation to a more competitive, market-oriented enterprise.
At present, the Black Sea Shipping Co., which operates both cargo routes and passenger cruises, has no regular sailings to U.S. ports. Neither do any other Soviet lines. U.S. shipping lines, for their part, do not regularly call at Soviet ports.
If Soviet-American trade increases, this situation is likely to change. Maryland authorities should redouble their efforts to promote the Port of Baltimore as a handy and efficient import and export gateway. Future American shipping through Odessa, in turn, would give direct access to Ukraine, the second largest republic of the Soviet Union. It would also offer a way to bypass the congested Soviet Baltic ports and avoid lengthy delays on the clogged railroad lines that feed them.