Ukraine’s ability to keep exporting wheat, corn and other ag commodities under the threatened Black Sea Grain Initiative will be a major focus when world ag leaders meet later this week in Japan for a summit of G7 agriculture ministers, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who will be attending.
“I fully expect … that there will be an extended conversation about the Black Sea Grain Initiative and key support for (Odesa ports to) be open and to express deep concern for any effort on the part of Russia to interfere with the ability of Ukrainian grain to get to countries in Africa and elsewhere,” Vilsack told reporters Wednesday.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a pact brokered by the United Nations among Ukraine, Russia and Turkey that allows Ukraine to export its grain through three ports in Odesa, has come under renewed threat by Russia, which claims Western nations are blocking its exports of ammonia. Ukraine, Turkey the United Nations and Russia agreed on a separate deal to remove obstacles to Russian fertilizer exports.
Ukrainian officials blame Russian inspectors for blocking vessels containing Ukrainian grain from leaving the Black Sea through the Bosporus Strait. United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that inspections were halted Monday and Tuesday but resumed Wednesday. Inspections also halted on April 11.
United Nations General Secretary António Guterres and Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov will discuss the recent sporadic shutdowns when they meet next week, Dujarric said.
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Vilsack also stressed that a failure of the Black Sea Grain Initiative would force more Ukrainian grain onto nearby Eastern European markets, pushing down prices there and hurting local farmers.
Ukraine also exports grain by rail and truck to the west and south, through countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. Farmers in those Eastern European countries have been loudly protesting the Ukrainian grain shipments because much of the grain is ending up in their domestic markets instead of traveling through to ports.
“I expect there will be a lot of conversation about that and the need for a strong statement from the G7 ag ministers directed at Russia to keep (the Odesa ports) open,” Vilsack said.