Mideast countries that are already struggling fear price hikes after Russia exits grain deal

Mideast countries that are already struggling fear price hikes after Russia exits grain deal
Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer, and other lower-income Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Pakistan worry about what comes next. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 August 2023
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Mideast countries that are already struggling fear price hikes after Russia exits grain deal

Mideast countries that are already struggling fear price hikes after Russia exits grain deal
  • Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, and other lower-income Middle Eastern countries worry about what comes next
  • Many have diversified their sources of wheat, the main ingredient for flatbread that is a staple of diets in many Mideast countries

CAIRO: Ahmed Salah grew anxious when he heard the news that Russia had suspended a crucial wartime grain deal. The bakery owner in Egypt’s capital is concerned it could mean global food prices soar.
“There mightn’t be immediate impact,” the 52-year-old said last week as he oversaw workers baking bread in his shop in Cairo, “but if they didn’t find a solution soonest, things would be very difficult.”
Russia pulled out of the deal brokered by the UN and Turkiye to allow Ukraine’s grain to flow during a global food crisis. It helped stabilize food prices that soared last year after Russia invaded Ukraine — two countries that are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to developing nations.
Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, and other lower-income Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon and Pakistan worry about what comes next. Struggling with economic woes that have driven more people into poverty, they fear rising food prices could create even more pain for households, businesses and government bottom lines.
Many have diversified their sources of wheat, the main ingredient for flatbread that is a staple of diets in many Mideast countries, and don’t expect shortages. Pakistan has even seen a bumper crop despite unprecedented flooding last year.
But the end of the grain deal is creating uncertainty about price hikes, a major driver of hunger.
It “is an unnecessary shock for the 345 million acutely food insecure people around the world,” said Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Program.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call Wednesday that he is pushing to extend the grain deal because the long-term cutoff of Ukrainian ports “does not benefit anyone” and low-income countries “will suffer the most,” according to a statement from Erdogan’s office.
Russia, meanwhile, is launching attacks on Ukrainian ports and agricultural infrastructure, leading global wheat prices to zigzag. Despite the volatility, the costs are below what they were before Russia invaded Ukraine, and there is enough production to meet worldwide demand, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
But for low-income countries like war-torn Yemen or Lebanon that are big wheat importers, finding suppliers that are farther away will add costs, he said. Plus, their currencies have weakened against the US dollar, which is used to buy grain on world markets.
“It’s one reason why you see food price inflation lingering in a lot of countries — because even though world prices I mentioned are at prewar levels, that’s in dollars. And if you put it in, say, the Egyptian pound, you’ll see that Egypt wheat prices are actually up,” said Glauber, former chief economist at the US Department of Agriculture.
“They’re certainly as high as they were during the high points of 2022,” he said.
That packs pressure on governments, which will have to pay more to keep subsidizing bread at the same level and avoid raising costs for households, he said. With many also seeing their foreign currency reserves dwindle, it could put countries in the Middle East and elsewhere in a more precarious financial situation.
Salah, the bakery owner, fears that if wheat prices spike, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government could respond by hiking prices of bread.
“Such move would have heavy toll on ordinary people,” he said.
El-Sisi and other leaders raised concerns about higher food prices at a summit Russia hosted for African nations last week. He called for reviving the Black Sea deal through a “consensual solution” that takes into consideration “all parties’ demands and interests and put an end to the continued surge in grain prices.”
Homegrown grain doesn’t meet even half of Egypt’s demand, particularly wheat and corn. It buys over 10 million tons of wheat — mostly from Russia and Ukraine — and that is expected to grow.
Local wheat production is expected to remain at 9.8 million tons, while consumption increases by 2 percent to 20.5 million tons in 2023-2024, according to a USDA report from April.
However, the government said the impact of the end of the grain deal is minimal so far. Supply Minister Ali Moselhi said last week that Egypt has diversified its sources of imported wheat and that its stockpile would cover the country’s needs for five months.
Its wheat purchases from Ukraine have declined by 73.6 percent over the 2021-2022 period as Egypt tapped other sources, the USDA said.
Any increase in wheat prices would further strain Egypt’s economy, which has struggled from decades of mismanagement and outside shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine. That could force the government to cut nonsubsidy spending and push up inflation, Capital Economics said.
Food costs already are fueling a cost-of-living crisis. Annual inflation hit a record 36.8 percent in June, with food prices skyrocketing by 64.9 percent.
In Lebanon, the grain deal’s collapse could be an additional hurdle as the tiny Mediterranean country relies on Ukraine for at least 90 percent of its wheat, flour millers say.
The agreement helped resolve supply shortages that shocked the market during the onset of the war, causing large breadlines and rationing. Caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam said any negative impact on wheat prices following the deal’s collapse will “certainly” affect prices at home.
The country of some 6 million is in the throes of an economic crisis that has impoverished three-quarters of its population. Its main wheat storage silos were destroyed in the Beirut port blast in 2020, so its grain reserves lie entirely in private mills’ storage.
“We currently have two months’ worth of wheat reserves, and we have one month’s worth on the way,” said Wael Shabarek, owner of Shahba Mills. “While I expect some price increase, it won’t be the same as before — as the beginning of the war — when it was a total shock for us.”
However, Lebanon’s economy keeps shrinking, its currency has lost 90 percent of its value since 2019 and the World Food Program says local food prices are among the highest in the world.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is a bright spot. It was a major importer of Ukrainian wheat, but this year had the highest domestic production in a decade despite disastrous flooding in 2022. The bumper crop is attributed to providing seed and other aid to farmers.
The government still calls for restoration of the grain deal to ensure global food security and avoid surging prices. Pakistan, whose ailing economy is getting a $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout, was hit hard when food prices surged after Russia’s invasion.
“The Ukraine conflict has also brought difficulties for developing countries and the Global South, particularly in terms of fuel, food and fertilizer shortages. Pakistan is no exception,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said.


Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media

Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media
Updated 5 sec ago
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Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media

Iran to hold presidential election on June 28: state media
The election calendar was approved at the meeting of the heads of the judiciary, government, and parliament

TEHRAN: Iran announced Monday it will hold presidential elections on June 28, state media reported, following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage in a helicopter crash.
“The election calendar was approved at the meeting of the heads of the judiciary, government, and parliament,” state television said.
“According to the initial agreement of the Guardian Council, it was decided that the 14th presidential election will be held on June 28.”

US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden

US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden
Updated 20 May 2024
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US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden

US says Houthis fired ballistic missile over Gulf of Aden
  • “This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners,” CENTCOM said
  • The Houthis did not claim credit for any fresh assaults on Monday, but they regularly do days later

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched a ballistic missile over the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, the US military said.
This comes as the Houthis intensified attacks on Yemeni government soldiers around the country.
The US military said in a statement on Monday morning Yemen time that at about 9:35 p.m. (Sanaa time) on Sunday, the Houthis launched one anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen over the Gulf of Aden, but neither the US-led coalition nor international commercial ships reported being hit by the missile.
“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” CENTCOM said.
The Houthis did not claim credit for any fresh assaults on Monday, but they regularly do days later.
The Houthis’ newest missile launch is part of an escalation of missile and drone strikes against commercial and navy ships in international seas near Yemen as well as in the Indian Ocean, which the Houthis claim are in support of Palestine.
The Houthis attacked dozens of ships with hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and drone boats during their campaign against ships, which started in November.
They also took control of one commercial ship and destroyed another.
The US military said on Saturday that a Greek-owned and operated oil tanker heading toward China in the Red Sea, flying the flag of Panama, barely avoided being struck by a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
Meanwhile, four Yemeni government troops were killed on Monday while battling the Houthis in the province of Taiz, bringing the total number of soldiers killed in Houthi attacks to 11 in less than a week.
Local media said that the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthis in the Hayfan area, on the border between Taiz and Lahj provinces, that left four of its soldiers dead.
On Saturday, a soldier from the same Yemeni military unit was killed and another injured while defending their position in Haydan against a Houthi onslaught.
Six more Yemeni soldiers from the government’s Giants Brigades were killed on Saturday in fighting with the Houthis in the Al-Abadia region of Marib’s central province.
On Monday, the Houthis held a military burial procession in Sanaa for two of their troops killed while battling with Yemeni government forces.
The Houthis have organized similar funerals for hundreds of fighters who have died on the front lines ever since the UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect in April 2022.
At the same time, official media said that Yemen’s Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohsen Al-Daeri met the UN Yemen envoy’s military adviser, General Antony Hayward, in Aden on Sunday to discuss Houthi attacks on government troops across the country, peace efforts to end the war, and the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis.
Al-Daeri said that the Houthis had breached agreements with the Yemeni government and would continue to pose a danger to international maritime lines as long as they controlled Yemeni territory on the Red Sea.
He also accused Iran of continuing to supply weapons and military officers to the Houthis through direct journeys from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to the Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port.
On Monday, UN experts, including Nazila Ghanea, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, urged the Houthis to release five members of the Bahai religious minority and to stop persecuting religious minorities in regions they control.
“We urge the de facto authorities to release these five individuals immediately and refrain from any further action that may jeopardize their physical and psychological integrity,” the experts said.
Armed Houthis abducted 17 Bahais, including five women, after bursting into a meeting in Sanaa a year ago, and they have refused to release them despite local and international requests.
According to the UN experts, the Houthis released 12 Bahais under “very strict conditions” after signing a written pledge not to communicate with other sect members, avoid religious activities and not leave cities without permission, and that the Houthis continue to hold five who are at risk of mistreatment by their captors.
“We are concerned that they continue to be at serious risk of torture and other human rights violations, including acts tantamount to enforced disappearance,” the UN experts said.


Egypt mourns death of Iran’s president

A person walks past a banner with a picture of the late Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on a street in Tehran, Iran May 20, 2024.
A person walks past a banner with a picture of the late Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on a street in Tehran, Iran May 20, 2024.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Egypt mourns death of Iran’s president

A person walks past a banner with a picture of the late Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on a street in Tehran, Iran May 20, 2024.
  • The Egyptian president expressed Egypt’s solidarity with the leadership and people of Iran during this tragic time

CAIRO: Egypt mourned the deaths of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Egypt’s presidency said in a statement: “It is with deep grief and sorrow that the Arab Republic of Egypt mourns the death of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and their escorts on Sunday in a tragic crash.

“President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi extends his sincere condolences to the people of Iran, asking Allah to envelop President Raisi and the deceased with his mercy and grant solace and comfort to their families.”

The Egyptian president expressed Egypt’s solidarity with the leadership and people of Iran during this tragic time.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry extended his condolences to the Iranian government and people over the deaths of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, according to ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.

A helicopter carrying Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and several other officials crashed in mountainous terrain in the country’s northwest on Sunday. On Monday, Tehran announced the deaths of Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and their accompanying delegation in the crash.

 


Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’

Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’
Updated 20 May 2024
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Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’

Israel calls ICC prosecutor’s bid for PM arrest warrant a ‘historical disgrace’
  • Katz denounced the move as a “scandalous decision” that amounted to “a frontal attack... on the victims of October 7“
  • The minister added that Israel would establish a special committee to fight the ICC prosecutor’s efforts to secure a warrant

JERUSALEM: Israel on Monday slammed as a “historical disgrace” an application by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prosecutor, Karim Khan, applied for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as well as top Hamas leaders on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that Khan “in the same breath mentions the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel alongside the abominable Nazi monsters of Hamas — a historical disgrace that will be remembered forever.”
The prosecutor said he was seeking warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant for crimes including “wilful killing,” “extermination and/or murder” and “starvation.”
Katz denounced the move as a “scandalous decision” that amounted to “a frontal attack... on the victims of October 7” when Hamas launched their attack on Israel, sparking the Gaza war.
The minister added that Israel would establish a special committee to fight the ICC prosecutor’s efforts to secure a warrant, and also embark on a diplomatic push against it.
Katz said he planned to “speak with foreign ministers in leading countries of the world so that they oppose the prosecutor’s decision and announce that, even if orders are issued, they do not intend to enforce them on the leaders of the State of Israel.”


35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry

35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry
Updated 20 May 2024
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35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry

35,562 Palestinians killed in Gaza offensive since Oct. 7 — health ministry
  • 106 Palestinians were killed and 176 injured in the past 24 hours

DUBAI: More than 35,562 Palestinians have been killed and 79,652 injured in the Israeli military offensive on Gaza since Oct. 7, the Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Monday.
One hundred and six Palestinians were killed and 176 injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry added.