UN Officials Hopes for Breakthrough on Russian Food, Fertilizer Shipments

Moscow has complained that Western sanctions have hindered insurance, financing and logistics.

U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator Martin Griffiths speaks in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2023.
U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator Martin Griffiths speaks in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2023.
AP Photo/Jamey Keaten

GENEVA (AP) — A top U.N. official said Thursday that he hopes for a breakthrough soon after months of efforts to ensure that Russian food and fertilizer can be shipped to developing countries struggling with high prices.

A day after Moscow agreed to renew a wartime accord allowing Ukraine to export critical food supplies, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told The Associated Press that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently met with insurance titan Lloyds to help iron out coverage for shipments of Russian agricultural products.

Moscow has repeatedly complained that Western sanctions, which don't target its food or fertilizer, have hindered insurance, financing and logistics for its exports. However, analysts and trade data say Russia is shipping huge amounts of wheat through other ports.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq declined to confirm whether Guterres had met with Lloyds. The insurer did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

"We are engaged with the private sector at all levels, including that of the secretary-general, to ensure" the agreement to facilitate Russia's food and fertilizer exports is "fully implemented," Haq said.

The U.N. and Turkey brokered two separate agreements last summer with the warring sides: one that has allowed more than 30 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to get to world markets through a demilitarized sea corridor and another to ease Russia's exports.

Griffiths said Russia — despite its vocal reservations — agreed on Wednesday to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative because Moscow recognized it's important to help underpin global food security and keep prices of grain, fertilizer and other farm products down.

Countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on affordable wheat, barley, vegetable oil and other food that comes from the Black Sea region, dubbed the "breadbasket of the world."

Griffiths, the top U.N. envoy on the grain deal, pointed to "a whole range of elements" that led to Russia's decision. Those include the views of developing countries that overwhelmingly support the deal, including China and India, as well as the role of Turkey, which helped broker the agreements, he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in a tough reelection contest and has cast himself as a neutral intermediary, announced Russia's extension of the deal a day earlier.

Griffiths said meetings continued Wednesday and he would take part in another virtual one in the next day or two "to nail down the other commitments that we didn't get in Istanbul" during grain talks last week.

"Yesterday we saw great progress," he said Thursday. "And I hope for tomorrow or the next day, we'll see it come to a conclusion."

Griffiths said the talks include work toward consensus on the export of Russian ammonia — a key ingredient in fertilizer — through the Black Sea, part of the deal that has not been executed.

Talks also will examine registration and inspections of vessels bringing Ukrainian grain out from its three open ports to parts of the world struggling with hunger, Griffiths said. Both have slowed considerably in recent months, and less grain has gotten out.

He pointed to "a huge amount of detail work behind the scenes" to ensure both agreements are carried out, including by Guterres and Rebeca Grynspan, head of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. She has visited Moscow repeatedly as the lead on the Russian side of the deals.

"There's daily efforts by her and her team and indeed by the secretary-general, who recently, I think, met the head of Lloyds, for example, looking at insurance issues," Griffiths said.

Moving forward, he hopes to see "major advances" in the next couple of months on aiding Russia's shipments "as well as on the specific issues now facing the Black Sea, which I hope — I would like to think — will enable us to have a more dependable future."

More in Supply Chain