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Egypt slams Russia's grain deal exit as Ukraine ports hit

Egypt slams Russia's grain deal exit as Ukraine ports get a pounding
3 min read
21 July, 2023
Egypt heavily relies on importing wheat from the global market, with Ukraine being the second largest source of imported wheat into the country in 2021.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has been in place since July 2022, allowing grain to be exported from Ukraine to the rest of the world [Getty]

Egypt has criticised Russia's pullout of the Black Sea Grain Initiative after the deal, allowing for the safe passage of Ukrainian wheat exports, expired on Monday.

Countries such as Egypt are hugely reliant on Russian and Ukrainian wheat - with bread a staple in the country - and the invasion of Ukraine had sent prices skyrocketing. Following criticism of Russia's blockades on Ukrainian ports, sending wheat prices north, a deal agreed in July 2022 allowing for wheat exports.

Russia's withdrawal from the agreement this week caused prices to rise sharply again with countries in the Global South among the worst affected.

On Thursday, US prices for wheat closed at 727 cents per bushel, up from 653.75 cents when the deal ended on Monday.

Egypt’s Minister for Supply Ali El-Mosilhy told Bloomberg that Egypt was "not pleased with the Russian withdrawal from the UN-grain export deal" and would continue to receive Ukrainian wheat via Europe.

Egypt - with its 100 million population - is particularly vulnerable to global food price shocks and is projected to be the largest importer of wheat globally in 2023-2024. Bread is consumed with most meals by the population and is heavily subsidised to ensure even the poorest Egyptians can afford the staple.

Ukraine supplied 18.8 percent of imported wheat into Egypt in 2021 according to the Observatory for Economic Complexity.

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Egypt is now seeking a $400 million loan from the UAE to help purchase wheat, after having to defer on payments for wheat following a shortage of hard currency and depreciation of the Egyptian pound.

The funding would come from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in tranches of $100 million. It is not known when the deal will be finalised.

It follows from last year's effort by the World Bank to give a $500 million loan to Egypt in support of wheat purchases.

Egypt’s criticism has been followed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who said he regretted the decision by Russia as people globally struggle with food price inflation.

He said the world's poorest "will pay the price" for the withdrawal.

A top civil servant in Kenya’s foreign ministry, Korir Sing’Oei, described the decision as a "stab on the back" for countries affected by food insecurity.

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed optimism that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be persuaded to restore the grain initiative during planned talks between the two.

His comments came after Russia issued warnings on Wednesday that ships heading to Ukrainian ports could be considered military targets.

Russia also fired cruise missiles at the port of Odesa last night in the fourth consecutive night of strikes on the city. The strikes are targeting the port facilities and agricultural infrastructure, with last night’s strikes hitting a granary according to the head of Odesa regional military administration, Oleg Kiper.