War in Ukraine: Why extending the grain deal is vital

War in Ukraine Why extending the grain deal is vital

Will global food security be shaken (again)? Russia announced the holding, Monday, March 13, of a meeting in Geneva with the UN on the extension of the agreement on Ukrainian grain exports. The hard-won “Black Sea Grain Initiative” helped ease the global food crisis caused by the Russian attack in Ukraine. While the expiration date of this pact, sealed on July 22, is set for March 18, its future remains uncertain. Indeed, on Thursday, the negotiations aimed at maintaining it were deemed “complicated” by the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov. Martin Griffiths, the UN’s head of humanitarian affairs, also described a “difficult” situation.

Renewed in mid-November for the four winter months, the agreement is nevertheless vital for the world’s food supply. “I want to stress the critical importance of extending (the grain deal) on March 18 and creating the conditions to make the best use of export infrastructure,” said UN chief Antonio Guterres during a visit to Kiev on Wednesday.

Ukraine and Russia produce a significant share of the world’s grain and fertilizers, together supplying (before the invasion) some 28% of the wheat traded globally and 75% of the sunflower oil. “This agreement is very important for the countries that receive these cereals. Initially, prices had exploded, at the risk of leading to a catastrophic situation in low-income countries”, underlines to L’Express Carole Grimaud, geopolitical analyst, specialist of Russia and post-Soviet spaces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also considered that the extension of the agreement was “absolutely necessary for the whole world”. And for good reason: according to the UN, it has allowed the export of 23.6 million tonnes of cereals from Ukrainian ports. But Russia says most of the Ukrainian cargo that ships under the deal is headed for Europe and other wealthy countries; not to those in Africa and Asia who are bearing the brunt of the global food crisis. On January 18, the UN indicated that China was the first recipient of exports made under the agreement, Spain the second and Turkey the third. It should be noted that part of the wheat delivered to Ankara is processed there and re-exported to countries such as Iraq and Sudan, or sold to the UN.

Grain exports from Ukraine by country since August 2022.

© / AFP

Wheat, vector of inequalities in the world

The World Food Program (WFP) bought 8% of the total wheat exported through this agreement last year, to support its humanitarian operations in hunger-stricken regions of the world. “When we look at the figures from the United Nations, 50% of these exports are aimed at Europe, a quarter is intended for intermediate countries and the rest for poor countries. For Russia, the agreement benefits Ukraine more in terms of commercial than in the less developed States”, explains Carole Grimaud. Corn (49%) and wheat (28%) represent the majority of grain products exported, according to this report.

Towards the end of 2022, the volume transported by vessels through the grain corridor has increased. “This is explained by Arnaud Petit, executive director of the International Grains Council (IGC) in the British media The Guardian “It was a really impressive export level. In November and December, Ukraine was close to the same level as before the war in terms of seaborne and inland exports,” he said. 5 million tons of grain were exported, close to the usual export capacity.” Exports fell slightly in January and February, however, for three reasons: bad weather in the region, power outages affecting Ukrainian port facilities, and some delays in inspections that take place when ships loaded with grain reach Turkey. .

Is there a risk of a food crisis if the agreement is not renewed? Carole Grimaud, believes that a non-extension would have the logical consequence of increasing cereal prices: “It would be an additional constraint for the European purse. But for countries with very low incomes, the humanitarian situation could deteriorate. , because all these countries have probably not had time to rebuild their grain stocks. This would plunge them into a crisis again.”

Ukrainian cereals and Russian fertilizers, a “tandem” agreement

On Tuesday March 7, Ukraine had called for international efforts to keep open the sea lanes in the Black Sea, used for the transport of its cereals. And the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had asked during the G20 at the beginning of March that Russia renew the agreement. However, the signals sent by Moscow are hardly reassuring. Russia complains that part of the agreement, the part allowing it to export fertilizers without Western sanctions, is not fully respected.

“Our Western colleagues, the United States, the EU pathetically state that no sanctions apply to food products and fertilizers, but this is not an honest position, Sergei Lavrov told a conference on Thursday. release after a meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Faisal bin Salman Al Saud.The sanctions prohibit Russian boats carrying grain and fertilizers from entering appropriate ports (and) prohibit foreign boats from entering Russian ports to recover these shipments.”

War in Ukraine: grain export

Review of the Black Sea agreement on grain exports concluded in July 2022

© / AFP

Martin Griffiths explains that the grain agreement “works in tandem” with the agreement between the UN and Russia on Russian fertilizer exports. And the latter, which runs for three years, “is much more complicated, in many respects […] to make it work” than that on cereals. But “it is important that it works, it is important that we bring out the Russian fertilizers”.

Another problem also claimed by Russia: the question of insurance for Russian ships. “Insurers are afraid of being subject to European sanctions, so they have considerably increased their prices. It is therefore becoming more and more expensive for Russia to export cereals, continues Carole Grimaud. In the eyes of Moscow, this grain agreement supports Ukrainian and non-Russian interests, so we are in an impasse. However, the Kremlin has no interest in appearing as the one who wants to block deliveries, because it has an image policy in Africa which is very important. So they are trying to maneuver to put the blame on the West.”