Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis

Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis
Ukraine has managed to boost its Black Sea grain exports to a level not seen since before Russia's invasion, although the Red Sea shipping crisis poses a new challenge to its crucial agricultural trade. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 24 January 2024
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Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis

Ukraine’s Black Sea grain export success tested by Red Sea crisis
  • The export turnaround helped Ukraine’s economy to steady last year and further tamed global food prices
  • Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine exported about 6 million tons of food monthly via the Black Sea

PARIS/KYIV: Ukraine has managed to boost its Black Sea grain exports to a level not seen since before Russia’s invasion, although the Red Sea shipping crisis poses a new challenge to its crucial agricultural trade.
Kyiv’s success in replacing a UN-backed Black Sea export deal with its own shipping scheme has brought relief for Ukrainian farmers and importing countries while representing a naval breakthrough for Ukraine’s military as a land counteroffensive has stalled.
The export turnaround helped Ukraine’s economy to steady last year and further tamed global food prices after Russia’s invasion in February 2022 drove them to record highs.
Kyiv shipped around 4.8 million metric tons of foodstuffs in December, mostly grain, from its Black Sea ports, surpassing for the first time volumes achieved under the previous UN-sponsored corridor. Moscow quit that deal last July saying commitments to safeguard its own exports were not being respected.
Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine exported about 6 million tons of food monthly via the Black Sea.
“The alternative Black Sea export corridor from Ukraine has definitely been a positive signal for the agricultural industry,” Svetlana Malysh, senior Black Sea agriculture analyst at LSEG, said, adding: “There are lot of concerns related to the situation in the Red Sea.”
Ukrainian grain exports by sea in January could drop by around 20 percent compared with last month, a senior Ukrainian official said last week, mostly because of the Red Sea crisis.
Strikes on shipping in the Red Sea by the Iran-aligned Houthis who control much of Yemen have stymied trade between Europe and Asia. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza. Their actions have prompted US and British air strikes against Houthi targets.
Passage through the Red Sea is very important for Ukraine as almost a third of its exports via the Black Sea corridor are sent to China.
Under its new export scheme, Ukraine is also supplying grain to Pakistan for the first time since Russia’s invasion, said Alexander Karavaytsev, senior economist at the International Grains Council.
Grain ships are increasingly being diverted away from the Suez Canal-Red Sea route, according to analysts and traders.
“The Red Sea situation is likely to hamper long-haul shipments from Ukraine,” Karavaytsev said.

BETTER THAN BEFORE
Ukrainian Black Sea food exports remain substantial. Over January 1-19, about 1.9 million tons were shipped via sea ports and another 1.7 million tons are still scheduled for January, said Spike Brokers, which tracks and publishes export statistics.
Ukrainian producers have welcomed the sea route as an improvement on both makeshift routes via the European Union and the UN-sponsored corridor, under which protracted cargo inspections with Russia drove up vessel charges.
“Since the invasion, now is the best time for farmers in terms of logistics,” said Dmitry Skornyakov, CEO of Ukrainian farm operator HarvEast.
Easing shipping costs have allowed depressed domestic prices in Ukraine to rise. Corn export prices have gained around $30 per ton since the start of the new corridor, while the cost of a medium-sized bulk vessel from Odesa to Spain has fallen by a similar amount, according to LSEG data.
Ukraine hopes to cement the role of its Black Sea corridor, which currently serves three ports in the Odesa region, by winning recognition from the UN’s International Maritime Organization, which could send a mission in February.
That could help ease worries about Russia’s military threat at sea.

EXPORT ROUTES
Ukrainian officials cite effective use of drones against Russian navy ships and the recapturing of an island near the Danube delta as allowing Kyiv to establish the route that hugs the Black Sea coast from Odesa down through Romanian and Bulgarian waters.
Kyiv now wants to re-open the port of Mykolaiv further east while maintaining transhipment via the Danube, Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov told Reuters.
Ukraine sees potential to raise total cargo shipments, including metallurgical products, from Black Sea and Danube ports to 8 million tons per month, against more than 7 million in December, he said.
Security for Ukrainian exports remains fragile as Russia intermittently strikes ports while the Black Sea is littered with mines.
If disruption to the Red Sea route to Asia persists, a fresh influx of cheaper Ukrainian grain in the EU may also deepen discontent among farmers in eastern member states such as Poland who have been staging protests.
But with Russia seen unlikely to actively target a food supply route serving countries that have not taken sides in the war, and with buyers lured by competitive Ukrainian prices, the sea corridor is expected to retain a sizeable role in global grain trade.
“In my view overall shipments by sea from Ukraine will continue to expand,” a European trader said, noting Ukrainian corn was sold to China last week despite Red Sea risks.


Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage
Updated 11 sec ago
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Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

Biden’s blurred red lines under scrutiny after Rafah carnage

WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s red lines over Israel’s assault on Rafah have kept shifting, but the US president faces growing pressure to take a firmer stance after a deadly strike in the Gazan city.

Despite global outrage over the attack in which 45 people were killed, the White House insisted on Tuesday that it did not believe Israel had launched the major operation that Biden has warned against.

John Kirby, the US National Security Council spokesman, said that Biden had been consistent and was not “moving the stick” on what defined an all-out military offensive by key ally Israel.

But Biden faces a difficult balancing act both domestically and internationally over Gaza, especially in a year when the 81-year-old Democrat is locked in an election battle with Donald Trump.

“Biden wants to appear tough on Rafah, and has really tried to be stern with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, but in an election year, his red lines are increasingly blurred,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the Soufan Group, told AFP.

“I think he’ll continue shifting those lines, ducking and weaving, largely in response to events on the ground.”

Facing US campus protests over his support for Israel, Biden said earlier this month that he would not supply Israel with weapons for a major military operation in Rafah, and he halted a shipment of bombs.

Yet he has since taken no action even as Israel has stepped up air attacks and, as of Tuesday, moved tanks into central Rafah.

Instead, the White House has largely retreated to arguing about what does, and does not, constitute an invasion.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week there was “no mathematical formula” and said that “what we’re going to be looking at is whether there is a lot of death and destruction.”

At the White House on Tuesday, his colleague Kirby faced intense questioning over the Israeli strike, which sparked a fire at a displaced persons camp in which dozes of people burned to death.

Kirby said the deaths were “heartbreaking” and “horrific” but again said there would be no change in policy toward Israel.

“We have not seen them smash into Rafah,” he said.

“We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops, in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated maneuver against multiple targets on the ground.”

But internationally the pressure is growing on Biden, a self-described Zionist who has stuck by Netanyahu despite deep disagreements since the war began with the October 7 Hamas attack.

Questions are mounting over how long the United States can tolerate an Israeli assault on Rafah when the International Court of Justice — the UN’s top court, of which both the US and Israel are members — ordered it to stop.

Political pressure is also mounting on Biden at home.

Protests against his support for Israel have roiled university campuses across the United States, while many on the left wing of his Democratic Party also oppose his stance.

Republicans however have assailed Biden over what they say is his faltering support for Israel, with US House Speaker Mike Johnson inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.

“It is indeed a difficult balancing act,” Gordon Gray, a former US ambassador who is now a professor at George Washington University, told AFP.

“Threading the proverbial needle — as the Biden administration is apparently seeking to do — will only disappoint voters who feel strongly about the issue one way or another.”

Gray however said he believed Biden’s decades-old support for Israel meant he would unlikely change his position, saying he was a “rare politician who is acting out of genuine conviction rather than for his own electoral benefit.”


Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
Updated 28 May 2024
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Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video

Deputy leader of UK’s Labour Party promises to fight to end Gaza’s suffering, in leaked video
  • Labour, if elected, would recognize Palestinian statehood, says Angela Rayner

LONDON: Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the UK’s Labour Party, has promised that her party will do everything in its power to ease the suffering in Gaza as it bids to regain Muslim voters’ support, a leaked video surfacing on social media has revealed.

The footage was first reported by the political blog Guido Fawkes, which claimed to have obtained the leaked tape from a meeting in Ashton-under-Lyne, Rayner’s constituency.

The MP is seen appealing to voters upset with the party’s stance on Israel’s assault on Gaza, The Telegraph reported.

Rayner — claiming she worked “day and night” to get three British doctors out of Rafah and is now attempting to secure aid for the enclave — said: “I promise you, the Labour Party, including myself, is doing everything we can, because nobody wants to see what’s happening.”

She acknowledged the party’s current inability to halt the fighting, admitting that Labour’s influence would be “limited,” even if it came to power after July’s general election.

Rayner added: “Only last week the Labour Party were supporting the ICC (International Criminal Court). The Conservatives didn’t support the ICC, so with this general election on that issue, we can’t affect anything when we’re not in government.

“And I’ll be honest with you, if Labour gets into government, we are limited. I will be honest. I’m not going to promise you … because (Joe) Biden, who’s the US (president), who has way more influence, has only got limited influence in that.

“And Qatar, Saudi Arabia, all of these people, we are all working to stop what’s happening at the moment; we want to see that. So I promise you, that’s what we want to see.”

Rayner also promised that, if Labour was elected, the party would recognize Palestinian statehood.

She added: “If Labour gets into power, we will recognize Palestine. I will push not only to recognize … there is nothing to recognize at the moment, sadly. It’s decimated.

“We have to rebuild Palestine; we have to rebuild Gaza. That takes more than just recognizing it.”

Gaza has been a divisive issue for Labour since Oct. 7, with reports revealing that Muslim voters have abandoned the party as a result of what they perceive as its politicians enabling the war.

The Telegraph found that Labour’s support had dropped in local elections in areas with large Muslim populations, including Oldham in Greater Manchester, where the party lost control of the council in a surprise defeat.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has expressed his determination to re-establish trust among those who have abandoned his party due to his handling of the Gaza war.

However, when probed on particular commitments, he remained vague.

Rayner said in the video: “I know that people are angry about what’s happening in the Middle East.

“If my resignation as an MP now would bring a ceasefire, I would do it. I would do it if I could effect change.”

However, she said such an eventuality was not “in my gift” due to the “failure of the international community.”

In response to the footage, Nigel Farage, Reform UK’s honorary president, accused Rayner of “begging” for the Muslim vote, The Telegraph reported.


12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
Updated 28 May 2024
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12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains

12 Indians killed in quarry collapse after cyclone rains
  • Several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides, and all schools were shut
  • India’s weather office warned of extremely heavy rains in northeastern states on Tuesday

Guwahati: Torrential rains in the wake of a powerful cyclone caused the collapse of a quarry in India’s Mizoram state killing 12 people, government officials said Tuesday.

“So far 12 bodies have been found, we are looking for more,” deputy commissioner of Aizawl district Nazuk Kumar told AFP.

Rescue efforts in the quarry were being hampered by “heavy rains,” police director general Anil Shukla said, NDTV news network reported.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lalduhoma offered compensation to families of the victims of the “landslide due to Cyclone Remal.”

“I pray for the success of rescue and relief operations and wish a speedy recovery of the injured,” India’s President Droupadi Murmu said on social media.

In Mizoram, several highways and key roads were disrupted by landslides. All schools were shut and government employees asked to work from home.

India’s weather office has issued warnings of extremely heavy rainfall across Mizoram and other northeastern states on Tuesday.

In India’s neighboring Assam state, one person was killed and heavy rains had cut the power supply, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a statement.

The cyclone made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighboring India on Sunday evening with fierce gales and crashing waves.

Overall, at least 38 people died in the cyclone or storms in its wake.

In India, eight people died in West Bengal state, officials said Tuesday, updating an earlier toll of six, taking the total killed in the country to at least 21.

In neighboring Bangladesh, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that made landfall on Sunday, at least 17 people died, according to the disaster management office and police.


Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
Updated 28 May 2024
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Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Poland’s foreign minister says it should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine
  • Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily
  • “We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do”

WARSAW: Poland’s foreign minister says the NATO nation should not exclude the possibility of sending troops to Ukraine and should keep Russian President Vladimir Putin in suspense over whether such a decision would ever be made.
Radek Sikorski made the comments in an interview published Tuesday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.
“We should not exclude any option. Let Putin be guessing as to what we will do,” Sikorski said when asked whether he would send Polish troops to Ukraine.
Sikorski said he has gone to Ukraine with his family to deliver humanitarian aid.
But a spokesperson for Poland’s Defense Ministry, Janusz Sejmej, told Polish media on Tuesday he had “no knowledge of that” when asked about a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine suggesting Poland might send troops to Ukraine.
The idea of sending foreign soldiers to Ukraine, which is battling Russian military aggression, was floated earlier this year in France, but no country, including Poland, has publicly embraced it.
Poland supports neighboring Ukraine politically and by providing military equipment and humanitarian aid.


Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
Updated 28 May 2024
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Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy

Baby found dead in stricken migrant boat heading for Italy
  • The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia
  • SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted

LAMPEDUSA, Italy: The body of a five-month-old baby was found on Tuesday when some 85 migrants heading for Italy from Tunisia were rescued from distress at sea, according to a Reuters witness.
The infant girl, her mother and 4-year-old sister were in an unseaworthy boat laden with migrants that had set off from Sfax in Tunisia two days earlier bound for Italy, according to charity group SOS Humanity.
SOS Humanity workers aboard its “Humanity 1” vessel found many of the migrants exhausted and suffering from seasickness and fuel burns as they were rescued before dawn on Tuesday, the group said in a statement.
Some 185 migrants rescued in separate operations this week, including the stricken boat overnight, were being taken aboard “Humanity 1” to the port of Livorno in northwest Italy. Another 120 migrants were transferred by coast guard boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa in the southern Mediterranean.
Tunisia is grappling with a migrant crisis and has replaced Libya as the main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict further south in Africa as well as the Middle East in hopes of a better life in Europe.
Italy has sought to curb migrant arrivals from Africa, making it harder charity ships to operate in the Mediterranean, limiting the number of rescues they can carry out and often forcing them to make huge detours to bring migrants ashore.