BY DILARA ASLAN ÖZER
ANKARA OCT 11, 2022 – DAILY SABAH
Both Ukraine and Russia have strong motivations to see the extension of a landmark deal that has enabled exporting grains from Ukraine and preventing a global food crisis, Amir Abdulla, U.N. Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative said as the deal is approaching its deadline.
“The initiative has been a success – we see that by the number of ships. I think that the impact that it has had on global food prices is recognized by all parties,” Abdulla told Daily Sabah in an exclusive interview in the capital Ankara.
The four parties to the deal – Russia, Ukraine and brokers Türkiye and the United Nations – are currently negotiating a possible extension and expansion beyond the Nov. 19 deadline.
The U.N. is working to extend it for a year and expand it to include Russian fertilizer exports like ammonia via Ukraine, which was a central aspect of the original deal.
“I think that the Russian Federation will be keen to see an extension of the deal if the ammonia starts to move.”
Reiterating that according to the deal, one of the commodities to move up the Black Sea was fertilizers as well as ammonia to make fertilizer, Abdulla said up to now no ammonia shipment has taken place. In order to get ammonia into the deal, an agreement has to be made on how to get Russian ammonia to the Ukrainian port to load on the ships.
The Ukrainian delegation, on the other hand, is very keen to see an extension of the grain deal because 7 million tons have already moved out, which created space for the new harvest to be put into silos, the U.N. official said. “There is a huge financial and economic benefit,” he continued, adding that if the initiative is extended then this would be an incentive for farmers to grow more and sell next year.
“Clearly, there is the difficulty with the current tension between the countries,” Abdulla said, referring to the latest wave of Russian missile attacks on the capital Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities this week.
He said that both sides have an interest in keeping the deal continuing but that both Ukraine and Russia could suddenly decide not to sign, which would bring the situation “back where we were with prices once again going up.”
Abdulla underlined that Türkiye can again play a mediating role in the extension of the deal.
“Türkiye has played an amazing role by being the host of the initiative. The Turkish government has provided the facility of the Joint Coordination Center. We are very grateful for that, it has helped us to keep the costs of the initiative low.”
“But there is also the role that Türkiye through its leadership can play by helping the two sides to reach the agreement. We jointly, as the U.N. and Türkiye, have the responsibility to bring the sides together,” Abdulla said and added that Türkiye both as a Black Sea country but also as a regional player is able to positively contribute to the process.
Turkish and U.N. efforts facilitated the signing of the deal in July to reopen certain Ukrainian ports to release grain that had been stuck for months because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – a development that has been crucial in responding to a growing global food crisis.
Most recently, Türkiye has also enabled a prisoner swap between the warring countries.
Türkiye is one of the most active countries working to ensure a permanent cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. Its delicately balanced act of assuming a role as a mediator by keeping communication channels with both warring sides open provides a glimmer of hope in diplomatic efforts to find a solution and achieve peace in the Ukraine crisis.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Ankara has offered to mediate between the two sides and host peace talks, underlining its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. While Ankara has opposed international sanctions designed to isolate Moscow, it also closed its straits to prevent some Russian vessels from crossing through them.
“I think the one thing that this initiative has done is that it kept Ukraine and Russia on the table, talking on how to keep ships moving. Although it is a technical issue, it has shown that they can sit down and resolve issues. So, it is a good starting point. If we did not have the initiative, then they would not be talking to each other in any way,” Abdulla said, indicating that he agrees with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the deal could contribute to peace.
7 million tons shipped
Speaking on the success of the deal so far, Abdulla reiterated that the Joint Coordination Center was opened on July 26, while the first ship sailed on Aug.1 and 1 million tons was reached on Aug. 27.
“It has been a success beyond what was first considered possible.
“It took us four weeks to reach 1 million tons but since then to Oct.11 we have done another 6 million tons. So, today, we passed the 7 million mark. We have done that with over 300 ships and we have done that with zero incidents,” he outlined.
“That is a success,” Abdulla added. “It has managed to open a corridor and has taken food, grains, oil to many parts of the globe while it has resulted in a lowering of food prices in many places. I think another sign of its success that is now turning into a challenge is that we had not quite predicted the high number of ships that would want to be part of this initiative,” he said.
The U.N. official said that while initially there were only a few ships joining every day – the other day there were nearly 20 ships.
“So, the success has actually created a situation where we have lots of ships waiting to be inspected.”
The U.N. is currently looking to find ways to make these inspections faster.
Limited number of inspectors
Describing the inspections as complicated, difficult and time-consuming, Abdulla said: “We have a limited number of inspectors.” Abdulla touched upon the recent delays due to full-blown inspections of the vessels and continued to elaborate that a joint inspection is required for the procedure with two inspectors from each of the four participants.
“On most days we have four different teams going out and with four teams you do 12 ships,” Abdulla highlighted.
Being asked whether the delays were caused intentionally by any of the parties, he said: “I do not think it is necessarily done anything on purpose but it is difficult to add inspectors.”
“We have over a hundred ships in Istanbul right now. They are creating quite a backlog, the Sea of Marmara is becoming congested with these ships,” Abdulla emphasized, indicating that the situation is creating a shipping safety risk. “The Turkish port authorities in Istanbul – I fully agree with them – want to see these ships move out.”
Abdulla pointed to two options to solve this problem, which would be to either get more inspectors and do more inspections or change the way inspections are done. “I posed both of these options to all the parties. Türkiye and Ukraine have more or less understood and accepted that we do it while the Russian Federation are still considering it. They have not said no which is the most important thing.”
Abdulla said that this process has to be solved in a quicker manner as dozens of ships are waiting as well as their crews on board.
On the other hand, Russia complains that despite the grain agreement, it is not able to sell its food and fertilisers due to the sanctions on its financial and logistics sectors.
“Some Russian grain is moving, therefore I think it would be wrong to say that none of it has moved,” Abdulla said. “The difficulties with the finance and insurance is remaining an obstacle. It is important for Russia as it wants to export its commodities but is not just important for Russia but for the world,” he explained, emphasizing that especially the fertilizer is vital as the planting season will begin in a few months in many parts of Africa.
“Without the fertilizer their crop output will be much lower. If the fertilizer is too expensive, farmers either can’t buy it or the only option is to sell the food at a more expensive rate. So, I think getting enough fertilizer back into the global market is both important for Russia in a financial manner but also for the world to hinder a food crisis.”
Russia and Türkiye had also frequently voiced that not enough grain is reaching lower income countries as about 25% of the grain is going to these countries.
Speaking on the issue, Abdulla said that food prices going down globally has benefited everyone, whether or not grain was directly shipped to these countries as “people on the lower level of income spend a much higher percentage of their money on food.”
Abdulla also said that around 40% of the wheat went to these countries.
The U.N. official also mentioned indirect effects of the deal and gave the example of some traders in Kenya that had initially started to store grain and keep it in the warehouse in order for prices to go up but who had to sell it seeing the cost of grain going lower.
“That food was not part of the Black Sea Initiative but because of the initiative prices went down and that food went back into the market.”