UN says it is doing everything possible to continue Ukraine grain deal

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters): The United Nations is “doing everything possible” to make sure a deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports continues, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Friday, a day before the pact is due to expire.

The pact was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July – and renewed for a further 120 days in November – to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade. The deal is due to expire on Saturday.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that Moscow had notified Turkey and Ukraine on Monday that it would extend the Black Sea export deal for 60 days, until May 18. Ukraine said on Friday that it wants the agreement renewed for 120 days.

“If Brussels, Washington and London are genuinely interested to continue the export of food from Ukraine through the maritime humanitarian corridor then they have two months to exempt from their sanctions the entire chain of operations which accompany the Russian agricultural sector,” Nebenzia told the council.

To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a three-year deal was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports.

Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. While its food and fertilizer exports are not under sanctions, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier to shipments.

“When it comes to sanctions we have gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate the clear carve-outs for food and fertilizers to governments and to the private sector. Simply put, sanctions are not the issue,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the Security Council.

The U.N.’s Griffiths said “meaningful progress” had been made on easing those exports, “but impediments remain, notably with regard to payment systems.”

“It is vital for global food security that both of these agreements continue and should be fully implemented,” he said.

Ukraine has so far exported nearly 25 million tonnes of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the United Nations. The top primary destinations for shipments have been China, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Netherlands.

“The war has had very significant implications for global food insecurity,” Griffiths said.

Russia and Ukraine are leading suppliers of food commodities and Russia is also a top exporter of fertilizer.

“The world relies on these supplies,” Griffiths said.