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Russia’s Black Sea grain deal exit is ‘de facto blockade,’ Canada says

Click to play video: 'Russia suspends landmark Ukraine grain deal'
Russia suspends landmark Ukraine grain deal
WATCH: Russia is suspending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was brokered to allow grains to be safely transported from Ukrainian ports to other countries during Russia's war in Ukraine. Redmond Shannon explains how Russia's decision will hurt worldwide food prices, and what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is now pushing for – Jul 17, 2023

A day after the Russian government withdrew from an agreement that allowed for the use of Ukrainian ports for grain shipments, Canada has called on Moscow to resume its participation in the Black Sea grain deal to avoid “further shocks to global food systems.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan issued a joint statement on Tuesday, saying Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement was a “de facto blockade.”

“Canada strongly condemns the decision of the Russian Federation to withdraw its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye as part of the Istanbul Agreements in July 2022,” the two ministers said in their joint statement.

“This reimposes a de facto blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, significantly affecting global food exports as well as security in the Black Sea.

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“Canada calls on the Russian Federation to immediately renew its participation in the agreement to avoid any further shocks to global food systems already strained by its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

The Canadian government said the Black Sea deal had managed to prevent 100 million people worldwide from falling into extreme poverty.

“(Russia’s withdrawal) also impedes the efforts of the World Food Programme, which sourced more than half of its total wheat supply from Ukraine in 2022, relieving hunger in hard-hit areas such as Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen,” the government said.

Click to play video: 'Impacts of Russia pulling out of Black Sea grain deal'
Impacts of Russia pulling out of Black Sea grain deal

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would suspend the Black Sea Grain Initiative until its demands to get its own food and fertilizer to the world are met.

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While Russia has complained that restrictions on shipping and insurance have hampered its agricultural exports, it has shipped record amounts of wheat.

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“When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal,” Peskov said.

The deal last year was a crucial breakthrough that allowed Ukraine to ship 32.8 million metric tons of grain. More than half of this export went to developing nations around the world and had been cut off during Russia’s invasion.

“(Under the Black Sea agreement), the World Food Program has shipped more than 725,000 tons (of food grains) to support humanitarian operations, relieving hunger in some of the hardest hit corners of the world including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday.

The initiative is credited with helping lower the soaring prices of wheat, vegetable oil and other food commodities.

A key demand by Moscow is the reconnection of the Russian agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank to the SWIFT international payment network. It was cut off by the European Union in June 2022 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Guterres said he sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, outlining a proposal. Among his offers was allowing the U.S.-based bank JPMorgan Chase to process Russian food grain payments.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that he had not heard of any such proposal. Guterres expressed his disappointment.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday evening that the deal must continue and could operate without Russian participation.

While the impact is expected to be felt in several developing countries in Africa and western Asia, United Nations Black Sea Initiative Joint Coordination Centre data shows that food shipments from the Black Sea were meant for destinations across the world.

China (eight million metric tons), Spain (six million metric tons), Turkey (3.2 million tons) and Italy (2.1 million tons) have been the biggest recipients of cargo from Black Sea ports since the deal was struck.

The implications will be felt all over the world, and an Oxfam Canada spokesperson told Global News they were concerned about the ripple effects the suspension of the deal could have on food prices, food donation drives and inequity in Canada.

Last week, the UN released its annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, which said that approximately 725 million people faced chronic hunger in 2022. This figure is up from 613 million in 2019.

Click to play video: 'Black Sea grain deal set to expire as Ukraine, Russia threaten use of cluster bombs'
Black Sea grain deal set to expire as Ukraine, Russia threaten use of cluster bombs

The war in Ukraine has caused the UN to update its projections on world hunger.

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“Updated projections show that almost 600 million people will be chronically undernourished in 2030 … this is about 119 million more undernourished people than in a scenario in which neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine had occurred, and around 23 million more than in a scenario in which the war had not happened,” the report said.

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