Fate of Black Sea grain deal between Ukraine and Russia hangs in balance

 Negotiators have about 24 hours to save a pact that's enabled Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain and help ease a global food crisis despite the war it is fighting with Russia.

The agreement has been extended twice already. But Russia has threatened to pull out of the arrangement by May 18 unless a list of its demands are met. These include a lifting of some restrictions on its agricultural exports.

The deal between Kyiv and Moscow enables Ukraine to safely use its Black Sea ports to ship cargo despite the war taking place on land. It was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last year. Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat, barley, vegetable oil and other food products to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

A sailor fixes the flag of Ukraine on a boat in Izmail, southwest of Kiev, on April 26, 2023.

The United Nations' World Food Programme has said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has contributed to "acute food insecurity" for over a quarter of a billion people globally. The so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed nearly 25 million metric tons of food-related exports from Ukraine to reach global markets, according to a March estimate by Martin Griffths, a U.N. humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. The World Food Programme, he said, sources much of the wheat for its global humanitarian response from Ukraine.

Since the grain deal was signed in July 2022, prices for commonly traded global food commodities have fallen, according to the FAO Food Price Index, which tracks monthly changes in international prices.

“If you have a cancellation of the grain deal again, when we’re already at a pretty tight situation, it’s just one more thing that the world doesn’t need, so the prices could start heading higher,” William Osnato, a senior research analyst at agriculture data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence, told the Associated Press.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing that Russia would not be drawn into "hypothetical discussions" on what Russia will do if the Black Sea grain deal lapses Thursday.

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