Russia and Ukraine are both seeking changes to their landmark grain-export deal as part of discussions to extend the initiative beyond the current deadline next month, according to the United Nations.
Russia wants to see a pipeline that transports its ammonia to Ukraine’s Odesa port for shipment reopened as part of the new terms, Amir Abdulla, UN coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, said in an interview in Istanbul on Oct. 14. Ukraine is seeking to extend the deal by more than year, and include Mykolayiv as a fourth exporting port, he said.
The initial run of the pact — which has revived seaborne grains trade from Ukraine in the midst of Russia’s invasion — is due to end Nov. 19. The UN, which helped broker the deal with Turkey, is intensifying efforts to secure an extension amid heightened tensions between the two sides.
The fate of the agreement remains vital to tempering global food inflation. Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest agricultural suppliers, and fears that Moscow may again seek to block its exports have stoked grain prices in recent weeks.
“It’s far too important to the rest of the world for it to be allowed to falter,” Abdulla said, while adding that full negotiations are yet to start. “So, I think it will be extended. But there are no guarantees.”
More than 7 million tons of crops have departed three of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the deal was initially signed in late July, with cargoes sailing to Europe, Africa and Asia. That’s also helped local farmers work through grain backlogs that have swollen since the war’s outbreak.
Still, logistical hurdles lately have tempered some of that progress. Ships departing Ukraine are required to be inspected at a jointly staffed center in Istanbul, and the backlog of crop vessels swelled to 156 as of Oct. 14, as it fails to keep up with the pace of departures.
The number of inspection teams increased to five on Oct. 14, up from three or four recently, Abdulla said. Parts of the inspection procedures have also been simplified, but there is a need to expedite them further to fix the backlog.
The agreement was inked for 120 days, but renewing it for a lengthier period would improve conditions for Ukrainian farmers and ensure they can export next season’s crops. And the addition of Mykolayiv port may not be “a total stumbling block,” Abdulla said.
The UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and Secretary-General of the Conference on Trade and Development Rebeca Grynspan are scheduled to travel to Moscow on Oct. 16 to discuss the grain deal.
“The real risk of this not being extended is not just to the two parties losing out on the benefits that they could get,” Abdulla said. “It’s the rest of the world and especially the poorer of the world.”
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.