LONDON (AP) — Concerns are growing that Russia will not renew a deal brokered by the United Nations that would allow grain to flow from Ukraine to parts of the world struggling with hunger, with ships no longer sailing to war-torn Black Sea ports of the country and food exports are declining.
Turkey and the UN negotiated the breakthrough deal last summer to ease a global food crisis, along with a separate agreement with Russia to facilitate the shipment of its food and fertilizer. Moscow insists it still faces hurdles, though records show it has exported record amounts of wheat.
Russian officials repeatedly say there is no reason to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will be extended for a fourth time on Monday. It’s something they’ve threatened to do before – and then they’ve extended the deal twice for two months instead of the four months in the agreement.
The UN and others are trying to keep the fragile deal intact, with Ukraine and Russia both major suppliers of wheat, barley, vegetable oil and other food products that countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia depend on. It has enabled Ukraine to ship 32.8 million tons (36.2 million metric tons) of grain, more than half of which to developing countries.
The deal helped lower world prices of food commodities like wheat after they rose to record highs following the invasion last year, but that relief didn’t reach the kitchen tables.
Russia’s departure would cut off a source of World Food Program aid for countries at risk of famine, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan, and exacerbate food security problems in vulnerable areas grappling with conflict, economic crisis and drought.
“Russia is getting a lot of good public will to continue this agreement,” said Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “There would be a cost in terms of public perception and global goodwill, I think, as far as Russia is concerned” if the deal is not extended.
The amount of grain leaving Ukraine has already fallen, with Russia accused of delaying joint inspections of ships by Russian, Ukrainian, UN and Turkish officials and refusing more ships to join the initiative.
Average daily inspections — designed to ensure ships only carry food and not weapons that could help both sides — have fallen from a peak of 11 in October to just over two in June.
That has led to a drop in grain exports, from a peak of 4.2 million tons in October to 1.3 million tons in May, a low for the year-old initiative. They rose to 2 million in June as the volume of shipments increased.
If the deal is not renewed, “those countries that have relied on Ukraine for their imports will have to look to other sources of imports, most likely Russia, which is something I imagine Russia was planning,” said Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food and Water Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The UN has been negotiating with Russia to stick with the initiative, with spokesman Stephane Dujarric saying on Monday top officials are “doing everything we can to ensure that all agreements continue”.
Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said on Facebook on Tuesday that the last two ships are loading grain – bound for Egypt – while 29 ships wait in the waters off Turkey because Russia has refused to allow their inspection.
“Ukrainian agricultural products play an important role in global food security,” said Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov. But “in recent months, the grain corridor has been practically closed.”
Russia insists the deal has not worked for its own exports, blaming Western sanctions for hindering financing and insurance.
While sanctions have no effect on food and fertilizer, Moscow is seeking to be removed from restrictions on the Russian Agricultural Bank, as well as relocating its ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, to a Ukrainian Black Sea port. But the ammonia pipeline was damaged during the war, the UN said.
“There is still time to implement the part of the agreements that concerns our country. So far this part has not been fulfilled,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week. “And so at this point, unfortunately, we don’t see any specific reasons to extend this deal.”
However, Russia has increased its wheat exports to a record high after a large harvest. According to S&P Global Commodity Insights, shipments went from 33 million tons in 2021 to 44 million tons last year and we expected 46 million tons this year.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s shipments are down about 60%, from 19 million tons in 2021 to forecasts of about 7 or 8 million tons this year – a major blow to the economy that relies on agriculture.
With less from Ukraine and more from Russia, the world’s available wheat supplies are the same as they were in 2021 — and there’s plenty to go around, said Peter Meyer, chief of grain analysis at S&P Global Commodity Insights.
Europe and Argentina are expected to boost wheat shipments, while Brazil had a top year for corn, of which Ukraine is also a major supplier. Meyer expects no more than a temporary increase in world grain prices if the Black Sea deal is not extended.
“Markets just adapt extremely quickly,” he said. “The fact is that global grain markets balance each other out.”
Ukraine can send its food across Europe by land or river, so it wouldn’t be completely cut off from grain sales, but those routes have lower capacity than sea transport and have divided the European Union.
“We are a cat that has no lives left in this situation,” said Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “It only takes one thing to go wrong before we get into trouble.”
While the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index has fallen below the record highs it reached when Russian troops moved into Ukraine, food costs were already high due to COVID-19, conflict and drought.
Then the war in Russia helped drive up the cost of food production, including energy, fertilizer, and transportation.
In developing countries increasingly dependent on imported food, from Kenya to Syria, weakening currencies keep local prices high as they pay in US dollars.
“With about 80% of East Africa’s grain being exported from Russia and Ukraine, more than 50 million people in East Africa are starving and food prices have skyrocketed by almost 40% this year,” said Shashwat Saraf, the regional representative. of the International Rescue Committee. Emergency Director for East Africa.
“It is vital for the international community not only to forge a long-term agreement, but also to build sustainable solutions to address food insecurity,” he said.
AP reporter Daria Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, and Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed.
See AP’s full coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine and the food crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/food-crisis.