Russia, Ukraine reach agreement to resume grain shipments

Russia and Ukraine signed agreements Friday that cleared the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain, as well as securing Russian exports of grain and fertilizers. Ukraine's one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil and halting its supply hurts global food security. UN Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, Russia and Ukraine signed agreements that cleared the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain, as well as guaranteeing Russian exports of its grain and fertilizers.

    Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Cutting off its supply had sent grain prices higher worldwide, and threatened global food security, compounding famine in parts of Africa.

    John Yang has more.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the deal aims to end a wartime standoff that's had some 20 million tons of grain stuck in Ukrainian ports since the Russian invasion.

    Three Ukrainian ports will now be opened. Shipments have been blocked by both a Russian naval blockade and Ukraine's use of mines to defend the ports. Today's agreement guarantees safe passage for Ukrainian vessels from the ports overseen by a coordination center in Turkey.

    Earlier, I spoke with a key negotiator, U.N. Undersecretary, Martin Griffiths. I asked him about the significance of the agreement.

  • Martin Griffiths, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator:

    The principal significance for us is, of course, the contribution to reducing food insecurity around the world.

    This is an agreement for the world. It's not an agreement just for Ukraine or Russia or even Europe. And, if I'm right, we have seen grain wheat prices go down today by 4 or 5 percent because of the agreement. So the two ways in which this food insecurity around the world, which has been so attributable in large part to the Ukraine war, is that there will be much more grain and fertilizers out into the market from both Russia and Ukraine, but also that it will — they will come at a reduced price.

    I cannot think of an example of an agreement mediated between the two warring parties in the middle of a hot war producing a benefit that is attributable to global welfare. I don't think that has happened before.

    It's also an agreement that was met by the two parties — made by the two parties. It shows they can do that. They can negotiate in good faith and come to an agreement.

  • John Yang:

    How quickly, how soon do you think grain will start leaving Ukrainian ports? And, perhaps more important, how soon will the effects be felt in the areas suffering from famine now?

  • Martin Griffiths:

    The Ukrainians were telling us here today that their ports would be ready to export grain within two days, two or three days.

    They're ready. They're ready to go. They have to identify safe shipping lanes and then the corridor across the Black Sea. That has to be done also with our Joint Coordination Center. So, setting that up, getting inspection teams ready is probably going to take a couple of weeks.

    Impact on places and famine, of course, it depends where those are, the one that is very much at the top of my agenda in the Horn, right, where we have seen absolutely terrible prospects in Somalia. So I think we will see immediately prices tapering down, which will be felt by people in those areas of conflict.

    Famine is a bit more complicated, because it's not just a price issue, although it is partly. It's also getting produce there. And to get wheat, let's say, from Odessa to Egypt or to — through to Port Sudan or something takes weeks and weeks.

    So, I think we will have an impact on the market immediately. But there are some places — this is what's so bad about this year — who are already perhaps beyond the point where this can deliver.

  • John Yang:

    This, of course, agreement has deals with grain that's already been harvested. It's been sitting in the ports.

    But there has been great destruction to one of the great breadbaskets of the world in the farmland in Ukraine. How much of a problem will that present in the future, the damage and destruction to farmland in Ukraine?

  • Martin Griffiths:

    There's been talk about getting tractor spares and so on back in to Ukraine, and, by the way, to Russia.

    And this came up from time to time in this negotiation of our Black Sea deal, where we said, look, we're just negotiating grain out at the moment. We have got to make that the simple, simple-ish priority. But if the parties agree and build confidence, they could start importing stuff into Ukraine to do the job that you're talking about.

    But let us be under few illusions. This ain't stopping the war. This is just getting the grain out. I'd like to think that the fact that the parties can agree to this means that maybe there will come a time when this confidence between them can make them agree to other things too.

    And we're already beginning to have kind of conversations about that.

  • John Yang:

    You mentioned also that there's a piece of this about Russian grain and Russian fertilizer.

  • Martin Griffiths:


  • John Yang:

    Could you explain that to us?

  • Martin Griffiths:

    There are two agreements signed today.

    What is involved in that is removing impediments to the export of grain and fertilizer from Russia. As you know, they're not sanctioned anyway. So this isn't about removing sanctions, but it's removing impediments.

    So, even if you don't have a sanction, banks won't get involved in trading out the grain and fertilizer from Russia. So, it's about comfort letters. It's about statements by particularly the U.S. and the E.U. that, no, grain and fertilizer, please export them.

  • John Yang:

    The secretary-general referred to this as a beacon of hope and a beacon of possibility. You also talked about the sort of unusual aspect of this, that this is an agreement between warring parties.

    Could this also show some hope and some possibility of other areas of negotiation, other areas of agreement?

  • Martin Griffiths:

    I hope so.

    I would like to think that this will encourage us, Turkey, the parties, to think of further humanitarian areas where we can find better agreements. There's still large parts of Ukraine where humanitarian access is limited because of the fighting. And we are still trying to get our aid in across lines and so forth.

    Let's at least look to humanitarian benefits in war. And then let's dream a little about whether we could move from there.

  • John Yang:

    Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, thank you very much.

  • Martin Griffiths:

    Thanks, John.

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