What to expect following grain corridor deal?

What to expect following grain corridor deal?
Russia launched an attack on the key Ukrainian port of Odesa less than a day after signing a UN-brokered deal to unblock grain exports via the Black Sea. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2022

What to expect following grain corridor deal?

What to expect following grain corridor deal?
  • Serious questions still remain about the implementation phase amid the continuing war in Ukraine

ANKARA: The comprehensive agreements signed on Friday in Istanbul by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN are expected to unblock the Black Sea for Ukrainian exports of grains and to help prevent a global food crisis following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

However, serious questions still remain about the implementation phase amid the continuing war in Ukraine.

Russia launched an attack on the key Ukrainian port of Odessa — a key point for wheat exports and the agreement — with Kalibr cruise missiles less than a day after signing a UN-brokered deal to unblock grain exports via the Black Sea.

The attack, which did not damage the grain storage facilities, does however mean a violation of the terms of the agreement, which emphasized that both countries would refrain from attacking port facilities used for grain transport.

Turkey says that it is worried by the Russian attack. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Russia denied involvement and added that the incident would be investigated.

As Turkey acted in a central role in connecting Russia diplomatically to the outside world and negotiating the deal, experts believed that the country’s leadership scored points as Turkey will become one of the hubs to grain coming from Ukraine and Russia.

The historic move, dubbed the Black Sea Initiative, is the result of intense diplomacy efforts between the quartet in brokering a deal between the parties to unblock Ukrainian agricultural exports into global markets by creating a secure food corridor through the Black Sea.

Ukraine and Russia, two major exporters of grains, fertilizers and wheat, signed two memoranda of understanding with the UN and Turkey on July 22 to begin exporting grains and other food products.

The execution of the plan will be controlled through the Joint Coordination Center to be established in Istanbul in the coming days with the presence of officials from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN to monitor the process together and ensure the maritime safety of the vessels from and to the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny with a “de facto cease-fire” in the area.

The commercial vessels will be also guided by the Ukrainian navy until they reach a secured corridor in the Black Sea.

Under the deal, which will be valid for 120 days, Ukraine will ship about 25 million tons of much-needed wheat to the world market. Ports are expected to be ready for the shipments in 10 days.

Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, sees the deal as a validation of Ankara’s strategy of staying engaged with Russia even while aiding Ukraine.

“I think the Russians are coming under increasing military and economic pressure so were willing to concede a major lever. Their main gain is to rehabilitate their standing as a reasonable actor to some degree. They are less dependent on grain exports so I don’t think they won the transaction in a direct sense,” he told Arab News.

According to Outzen, it is a rare case of leading in diplomacy rather than being stuck between great powers.

“But, the risks attached to the deal might appear in the implementation,” he said.

“Pressure may build in Kyiv to make more deals when Moscow is facing increasing headwinds in military sense. The advantage is that Russia’s acquiescence to an economic and diplomatic process presents their first step away from maximalist military solution and recognition of need for negotiated way out — including a UN role.”

It is still unclear how Saturday’s strikes would affect the deal, but technical preparations are ongoing for the export of Ukrainian agricultural products.

Regarding the latest missile attack to Odessa, Outzen thinks it is too early to assume the end of the grain corridor deal.

“It’s a bad sign . . . but it’s not that unusual for deals to cease or limit operations in one area of an ongoing war to take some time to implement,” he said.

According to the data of the World Food Programme, the blockage over grain exports may push an additional 47 million people around the world into “acute hunger.” The agreement is expected to make available about 18 million tons of wheat and corn that have been trapped at grain silos and Ukrainian ports under the blockage of Black Sea by Russia.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, thinks that the deal was a quite big diplomtic achievement for Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Since the beginning of the war, Turkey followed a pro-Ukrainian neutrality, and adopted a neutral attitude by supporting Ukraine militarily and taking steps like closing straits to Russian and Ukrainian ships,” he told Arab News.

“During this whole process, Turkey maintained economic ties and lines of communication open to Russia. This stance made Turkey the only country that had the opportunity to contact the both sides,” Cagaptay said.

According to Cagaptay, Putin is playing the arsonist and the firefighter, except in this case it is the reverse.

“First, he signs under the grain export corridor as a firefighter, but then he undermines it militarily as an arsonist, while denying any foul play,” he said. “The proof of success of the deal will be seen in the implementation.”

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, also agrees that the deal is a win for all parties that are concerned.

“As Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain and nutrient oils to world markets, global food prices will be contained and famine will be avoided in developing countries. The UN has demonstrated its capacity to find solutions to humanitarian crises during wartime,” he told Arab News.

“While Ukraine is now able to export its grain, earn revenues, and demonstrate its capacity to provide the world markets even when it is under invasion, Turkey has demonstrated its capacity to mediate between warring parties, gained prestige, and shown an example on why it is maintaining its dialogue with Russia could actually help Ukraine,” Unluhisarcikli said.

According to Unluhisarcikli, Russia has projected benevolence and avoided being perceived as the main culprit for food shortages around the world.

“While this development has mitigated food shortage in the short run, the problem will come back soon as Ukrainian farmers will produce less due to the war and farmers elsewhere will produce less due to the fertilizer shortage, another consequence of the war,” he said.

“All of this is based on the assumption that Russia will abide by the commitments it has made. The breaking news that Russia has targeted the Odessa port one day after the agreement makes this doubtful.”


Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
Updated 31 January 2023

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
  • Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork

BONGABON, Philippines: Even before his onions are fully grown, Philippine farmer Luis Angeles races to harvest the crop and cash in on eye-watering prices for a vegetable that has become a luxury item in the country.
Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork.
Some restaurants have stripped the staple ingredient from dishes, while many families already grappling with the highest inflation in 14 years have stopped eating them.
To meet demand and push retail prices back below 200 pesos, the government has approved the importation of 21,000 tons of onions and faces calls to crack down on traders suspected of hoarding.
But prices remain stubbornly high and onion farmers like Angeles have been harvesting earlier than usual to reap the windfall.
“What is happening is historic,” said Angeles, 37, as his workers pulled undersized red and white bulbs out of the soil near the northern town of Bongabon, the country’s self-proclaimed “onion capital.”
“This is the first time that prices have reached this level.”
When he began harvesting last month, Angeles received as much as 250 pesos per kilogram for his crop.
By the time his onions reached Manila supermarket shelves, the price had more than doubled, exceeding the daily minimum wage.

Customers shop for onions at a market in Manila. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

“I told my family, ‘Let’s just smell the onion instead of eating it’,” Candy Roasa, 56, said as she walked through a market in the capital where she has seen vendors selling bulbs the size of a small child’s fist for as much as 80 pesos each.
As onion memes spread on social media, the humble vegetable has become a symbol of wealth in the poverty-afflicted country.
At least one bride used pricey bulbs instead of flowers for her wedding bouquet.
Philippine Airlines crew members on a recent flight from the Middle East were busted trying to smuggle a few bags of the pungent commodity through Manila’s airport.

It is not the first time the Philippines has experienced a shortage of a basic food staple that caused prices to spike — sugar, salt and rice have all been hit in the past.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long impacted the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertilizer prices since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have only added to farmers’ woes.

A farmer harvests onions at a farm in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija province in the northern Philippines. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

Despite government pledges to boost domestic food production, the country relies heavily on imports to feed its growing population — but tariffs fuel inflation.
President Ferdinand Marcos appointed himself agriculture secretary to overhaul the near-moribund industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s employment but only makes up 10 percent of gross domestic product.
“Our agriculture sector is significantly challenged,” said Geny Lapina, agricultural economics and management professor at the University of the Philippines.
Every Filipino eats an average of 2.34 kilograms of onions per year and theoretically the country produces enough to meet the demand, official data shows.
But since the tropical climate only allows one planting per year of the rain-averse crop, stocks are consumed or spoil well before the next harvest.
The recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, which allowed the resumption of food-focused festivals and family gatherings for Christmas, triggered soaring demand for onions.
William Dar, who was agriculture secretary in former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, said the shortage could have been avoided if the current government had allowed imports back in August.
“This is the net result of the poor planning,” Dar told local broadcaster ABS-CBN.
There are growing concerns about future food security in the Philippines, which is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change and is plagued by poor nutrition.
The median age of farmers is 57 and the average farm plot has shrunk to around 1.3 hectares from nearly three hectares in the 1960s.
Many farmers are sharecroppers who do not own the land they till and cannot afford to make much-needed investments to improve productivity without government help.
Salvador Catelo, an agricultural economist at the University of the Philippines, said there were “lots of daunting challenges to be immediately solved.”
“We have rich natural resource endowments which are absent in many countries that are performing (better) than us in terms of productivity and self-sufficiency,” Catelo said.
As imported onions flow into the country, Angeles fears farm-gate prices could plummet to as low as 30 pesos per kilogram before he finishes his harvest.
“We are just trying to make our investment survive,” he said.


Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
Updated 31 January 2023

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
  • The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7

BEIJING: Residents and travelers sought shelter after a strong earthquake rocked a remote part of northwestern China on Monday morning.
No injuries or major damage have been reported following the temblor that struck the Xinjiang region at 7:49 a.m., according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of people evacuating an airport departure hall and ceiling fixtures swaying as the ground rocked. Ground crews were seen inspecting the airport’s exterior as the sun began to rise over the region’s Shahe county.
The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7.
A vast, resource-rich region of mountains and deserts, Xinjiang is one of China’s most seismically volatile regions, though most quakes strike in sparsely inhabited areas outside major cities.
Investigators were checking on the epicenter but no disruptions had been reported to the local power grid, oil and gas production or petrochemical industries, Xinhua said.
China’s deadliest recent earthquake was magnitude 7.9 that struck Sichuan province, south of Xinjiang, in 2008, killing nearly 90,000 people.

 


China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Updated 31 January 2023

China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
  • The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward

BEIJING: Southwest China’s Sichuan province will lift its three-child birth limit and remove restrictions on single parents as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.
China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data released this month showed, and the nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages.
China ended its strict “one-child policy” — imposed in the 1980s out of fears of overpopulation — in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021.
But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.
Faced with falling birth rates, authorities in Sichuan on Monday said they would remove the limit on the number of children a family can have and lift a ban on single women registering a birth.
The Sichuan Provincial Health Commission said the new rules would take effect on February 15.
Out-of-wedlock births are frowned upon in China, with the National Health Commission saying in 2017 that they were “against the public order and against good morals.”
The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.
The population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported recently, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year.
Many point to the soaring cost of living — as well as a growing number of women in the workforce and seeking higher education — as being behind the slowdown.
Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.
The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers birth bonuses of up to 10,000 yuan (around $1,500) and pays allowances until the child is three years old.


What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
Updated 31 January 2023

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
  • TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP

ISLAMABAD: When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
In a post on Twitter, a commander for the group, Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.
But more than 10 hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques or other religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Relations already are strained between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who are sheltering the TTP leadership and fighters.
A look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has waged an insurgency in the country for 15 years:
Why is the TTP fighting an insurgency?
Angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in the war on terrorism, the TTP was officially set up by Pakistani militants in 2007 when different outlawed groups agreed to work together against Pakistan and support the Afghan Taliban, who were fighting US and NATO forces.
The TTP seeks stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduction in Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province bordering Afghanistan that it has long used as a base.

Caption

The TTP has stepped up attacks on Pakistani soldiers and police since November, when it unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the government after the failure of months of talks, hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in Kabul. The TTP has repeatedly warned police not to take part in operations against its fighters in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
What is the relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban?
The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP, which shares the group’s ideology.
TTP fighters used to hide in Pakistan’s tribal northwest and also had sanctuary in Afghanistan, but they mostly lived a fugitive existence.
However, the Afghan Taliban started openly sheltering the TTP when they came to power. The Afghan Taliban also released TTP leaders and fighters who had been arrested by previous administrations in Kabul.
The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not allow anyone, including the TTP, to use Afghan soil for attacks against any country, including Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say there is a disconnect between the words and actions of the Afghan Taliban, who could stop the TTP from launching attacks inside the country but are failing to do so.


ALSO READ: 59 killed, 157 wounded, as suicide blast rips through Pakistan police mosque

The Pakistani Taliban have expressed their allegiance to the head of the Afghan Taliban, said Abdullah Khan, a senior defense analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
He added, however, that they have their own agenda and strategy.
TTP’s operations have largely been aimed at targeting Pakistani forces, similar to the Afghan Taliban’s agenda of ousting foreign forces from the country.
Khan fears that Pakistan will see a surge in militant violence in the coming weeks and months.
Has viollence increased recently?
Pakistan has seen innumerable militant attacks in the past two decades, but there has been an uptick since November, when the TTP ended a cease-fire with the government that had lasted for months.
The Pakistani Taliban regularly carry out shootings or bombings, especially in the rugged and remote northwestern Pakistan, a former TTP stronghold.
The violence has raised fears among residents of a possible military operation in the former tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, now two districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Hours after Monday’s mosque bombing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the independent Geo news channel that Afghan Taliban rulers must stand by their commitment to the international community to not allow anyone to use their soil for attacks against another country.
“They should honor their promises,” he said.


US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
Updated 31 January 2023

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
  • If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement

WASHINGTON: Women whose employers have opted out of covering contraceptives under their health insurance plans on religious grounds would gain no-cost access to birth control under a rule proposed by the Biden administration on Monday.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, requires private insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services including contraception without any patient cost-sharing, but current regulations grant exemptions for religious or moral objections.
If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement.
“Today’s proposed rule works to ensure that the tens of millions of women across the country who have and will benefit from the ACA will be protected. It says to women across the country, we have your back,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Under existing regulations, those enrolled in plans that do not cover contraception on religious or moral grounds can only access contraceptive services through an accommodation that employers can decline to offer.
Under the new rule, a provider would offer contraception at no cost to the employee and be reimbursed by an insurer, who would receive a credit from the government.
The rule would also remove employer moral objections as grounds for exemption from coverage but keep religious ones in place.