Ukraine war: International efforts to restore wheat supply gather pace

‘Failure to export these commodities will lead to starvation of millions’, says US congressman

Gino Spocchia
Wednesday 18 May 2022 15:35
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<p>Ukraine is among the world’s biggest agricultural exporters </p>

Ukraine is among the world’s biggest agricultural exporters

International efforts to restore some of the world’s wheat supply currently stuck in Ukraine is gathering pace ahead of a United Nations meeting on conflict and food security.

On Wednesday, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres will reportedly announce that the United States and European Union will engage in talks with Russia and Ukraine to potentially unlock more than 20 million tonnes of wheat.

Ukraine, the world’s sixth biggest wheat exporter, used to ship 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce through its ports per month, but the war waged by Russia has all but ceased shipments.

Russia has also been blamed on rising food prices around the globe, thanks to its reported blockade on ships, ports and warehouses holding more than 20 million tonnes of wheat and other agricultural produce.

Mr Guterres is expected to be joined by US secretary of state Antony Blinken at the United Nations Security Council meeting on conflict and food security on Thursday in New York.

A spokesperson for the state department told The Independent that Washington DC welcomed efforts announced by the European Commission last week to get some of the wheat moving by rail.

Ukraine has only been able to transport some of its agricultural produce out through rail and land borders, although this cannot compensate for the Black Sea blockade – which the US and EU has blamed for rising food prices.

Approximately 90 per cent of grain and oilseed exports from Ukraine were though its ports before the war, the EU said.

The state department spokesperson added that US allies and governments around the world needed to pressure Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to free the wheat stuck around the Black Sea to ensure a restoration of global food supply.

About 22 million tonnes of wheat are sitting in silos near Ukraine’s ports, the spokesperson said, and some 450 seafarers are known to be stranded on 84 ships on the Black Sea because of the Russian blockade.

Speaking on Tuesday during a hearing with the United States Agency for International Development, Republican congressman Michael McCaul blamed Russia for rising food prices.

“Continued blockade of the Black Sea and the Port of Odesa could have devastating consequences on the world food supply,” said Mr McCaul. “Ukraine is a breadbasket for the world, supplier of the wheat supply globally. Failure to export these commodities will lead to starvation of millions.”

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also blamed Russia’s war on Ukraine for a worsening food supply on Tuesday.

“Their blockade of ports not allowing food and wheat to leave Ukraine, their efforts to keep farmers from planting their farms, their attacks on food silos – all of this has contributed to an already dire situation,” said Ms Thomas-Greenfield, who did not go as far as saying Washington DC was involved in EU-lead efforts.

Canada’s foreign minister Melanie Joly suggested on Monday that Ottawa could send cargo ships to the Black Sea to help transport wheat out of Ukraine’s ports, ahead of a meeting with EU officials.

A decision by India to ban exports of wheat has also raised prices globally, with prices rising 5.9 per cent to a two-month high on Monday. Reports also suggest the surprise move has trapped 1.8 million tonnes of the agricultural produce at India’s ports.

Mr Guterres said that 36 countries rely heavily on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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