Black Sea grain deal lights up yellow to threaten East Africa, Turkey, UN run at last minute

On Monday, the Black Sea grain shipment agreement, which has been rescheduled three times, expires again. Seeing that Russia deliberately renewed the treaty, the United Nations and Turkey opened a last-minute mediation.

Although Russia and Ukraine have opened a tug-of-war before the expiration of each agreement, and Russia has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the agreement, but with the main pipeline transporting Russian ammonia, the Togliati-Odessa pipeline, and the NATO summit has increased support for Ukraine, Russia’s belief that it is not willing to change the date is more strong.

In the past month, senior Russian officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Rabu Rabu and Kremlin spokesperson Peskov, have commented that Russia does not see a reason to inherit the extension agreement.

Previous media reports said the EU was prepared to make no compromise, allowing Russian Agricultural Bank subsidiary to join the SWIFT system, but the initiative has been opposed by the Russian side.

If the Black Sea grain agreement is closed, East African countries, which rely on Russia and Ukraine for 80% of their grain imports, will be the hardest hit.

Last-minute pitch
According to Reuters on July 12, the United Nations Secretary General Guterres to the Russian leader Putin initiated the first Black Sea grain agreement extension for a few months, to give the EU time to Russian Agricultural Bank subsidiaries connected to the SWIFT system.

Last year, Europe and the United States imposed a stranglehold on major Russian banks, and nearly 10 major banks kicked out of the SWIFT system to attack Russia’s foreign business. One of the preconditions for Russia to extend the Black Sea grain shipment agreement is to reinstate the Russian Agricultural Bank into the SWIFT payment system.

Earlier, there was news that the EU was considering allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to create a subsidiary, by which the subsidiary would handle the punishment of business transactions unrelated to food imports, and allow the subsidiary to be linked to the SWIFT payment system.

But last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova objected to the launch, saying it would take months for Agricultural Bank to create a subsidiary and another three months to connect the subsidiary to the SWIFT system. She accused the initiative of being deliberately planned but not implemented, with the goal of pressuring Russia to extend the grain agreement.

In addition, Zakharova also opposed the initiative to have jpmorgan Chase transfer funds for the punishment unit of the Russian Agricultural Bank. In April, the Union prevailed on the United States to allow jpmorgan Chase to help the Russian Agricultural Bank handle transfers from the punishment department unrelated to agricultural imports.

The bank handled the first transfer in April and has since been able to handle 40 more transfers unrelated to Russian grain imports, according to sources familiar with the matter. But the first transfer was limited and went through a complex set of monitoring procedures.

In addition to talks with the United States, the United Nations is also in talks with the African Import Bank to create a new platform specifically to handle transactions that penalize Russian imports of grain and fertilizer into Africa.

Zakharova exaggerated that the similar practice of transferring money through jpmorgan Chase was no substitute for SWIFT and would not last long, and Russia’s plea was to get Agricultural Bank of Russia back into SWIFT.

In July last year, when Russia and Ukraine respectively signed agreements with Turkey and the United States on the Black Sea grain transport, the United States and Russia also concluded agreements, willing to help Russia’s normal import of agricultural products and fertilizers, including ammonia and other fertilizer materials. Although Western containment does not specifically target Russian agricultural products and fertilizers, the reality of containment in other areas, such as freight security and payment, limits the entry of relevant products.

Russia has been critical of broken promises. Stop in the first half of this year, Mongolia western subdue the role, Russia has 260,000 tons of fertilizer stranded in European ports but unable to transport, Russia has announced that the stranded fertilizer will be donated to countries in need.

At present, the United Nations has managed to ship two shipments of fertilizer, one to Kenya and one to Malawi, and later to Nigeria, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

In addition to reconnecting the Russian Agricultural Bank to SWIFT, the resumption of the Togliati-Odessa ammonia pipeline in Russia and Ukraine was Russia’s main complaint. At the end of May, news sources leaked that the union had asked Ukraine, Turkey and Russia to resume the import of Russian ammonia through the Ukrainian pipeline.

Ammonia is the crux of nitrate fertilizer, and Russia is also a major importer of ammonia worldwide. Before the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Russia had a pipeline from Togliatti to the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Yuzhne, near Odessa. The Togliati-Odessa pipeline can carry 2.5 million tons of ammonia a year, accounting for more than half of Russia’s ammonia imports. After the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Togliatti – Odessa pipeline was suspended.

In early June, however, the Russian Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of blowing up the Togliati-Odessa pipeline’s section in Kharkovo, Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Rampura called the attack on the Toolyatti Odessa pipeline “the last straw” for the Black Sea grain shipment agreement.

Olha Trofimtseva, Ambassador at large of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, also leaked that Urals Chemicals, a major Russian fertilizer supplier, is building an ammonia import terminal on Russia’s Taman Peninsula and no longer needs to import ammonia through Odessa. Trofimtseva believes that with other ammonia entry routes, Russia will “99.9 percent” back out of the Black Sea grain shipment agreement in July.

Last week, Britain’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Barbara Woodward, expressed similar sentiments, admitting that she had no faith in the extension of the Black Sea grain agreement. Ukrainian leader Volodymyria Zelensky also said at the NATO summit on Wednesday that the Black Sea grain shipment agreement will be “disturbed” after NATO supplies Ukraine with new weapons.

Although the prospects are not promising, Turkey, like the United Nations, has not given up lobbying. Turkish officials have repeatedly spoken to Russia about extending the grain deal, and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last weekend he was trying to bully Russia into extending the deal for at least three months.

Erdogan leaked that Putin will visit Turkey in August, and the Black Sea grain agreement will be one of the focuses of discussions between the two sides.

Function number
Prior to the expiry of the Black Sea grain agreement, there had been a significant increase in the number of grain ships joining Ukrainian ports. According to the agreement, grain ships entering Ukraine’s Black Sea ports should be reviewed in the Turkish Strait to ensure that the boats do not smuggle weapons and soldiers.

In October last year, an average of 11 boats were reviewed every day. But by June this year, the daily number of review boats had plummeted to two. As more boats have been added to the Black Sea, food deliveries have declined. In October last year, 4.2 million tons of grain were transported through the Black Sea grain channel, which dropped to 2 million tons in June this year.

After the agreement to ship grain to the Black Sea was concluded, global food prices, which had been plummeting, stabilized. The Global Food Price Index, compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, fell 1.4 percent month-on-month in June and was down 23.4 percent from its record high in March 2022.

Since July last year, the Black Sea food channel has transported 32.81 million tons of food, of which 725,000 tons were purchased by the United Nations World Food Program to support food shipments to Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and other countries.

Dominique Ferretti, a senior emergency official at the World Food Programme, warned that the closure of the Black Sea grain deal would be a huge blow to East Africa, as countries that rely on Ukraine for wheat would be left without food prices. The World Food Programme is delaying stockpiling and preparing as much food as possible. If the Black Sea grain agreement is closed, the agency will be forced to explore other suppliers at higher prices.

As for the impact of the closure of the Black Sea grain agreement on the world, analysts believe that global food prices will rise in the short term, but with more food imports from other regions, the market will gradually rebalance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated this week that Russia cashed in on its wheat boom in the 2022-2023 business year, with imports reaching 45.5 million tons, a new record. In 2023-2024, Russia’s wheat imports are expected to fall further to 47.5 million tons.

Peter Meyer, head of global commodity grains analytics at S&P, thinks global wheat stocks will end up at the same level this year as 2021, with imports from Ukraine falling at the same time as Russian imports.

At the same time, Argentina and many European countries have also cashed in the wheat harvest, and imports will rise; Brazil’s corn imports will also rise, making up for the decline in Ukrainian corn imports. Meyer speculated that the end of the Black Sea grain deal would boost global grain prices in the short term, but would not cancel out the long-term effect.

Corn, wheat and soybean futures rose Wednesday at the Chicago Board of Trade. The most heavily traded December contract in the corn market fell 3.54 percent to $4.8375 a bushel. The September wheat contract traded at $6.3275 a bushel, down 4.20%. The November soybean contract traded at $13.2775 a bushel, down 2.39%.

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