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Russia pessimistic about food deal, Ukraine tries to lift export ban | Russia-Ukraine war news

Prospects for Ukraine to unwind grain exports to Eastern Europe have improved as Romania has opted not to unilaterally ban grain imports, but there has been no apparent progress on extending the Black Sea export deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear on Thursday that Moscow believes its conditions for extending a U.N.-brokered deal that guarantees safe exports through the Black Sea during the Ukraine war have not been met.

“Here, almost nothing is done,” Lavrov told reporters in Havana during an official visit.

Russia has said extending the agreement reached last July beyond the May 18 deadline depends on the West lifting restrictions it sees as hindering Moscow’s agricultural exports.

Ukraine has stepped up exports of agricultural and food products through EU countries after Russia’s incursions disrupted Ukraine’s usual Black Sea routes.

Grain sales are an important source of income for Kiev, and last week a food import ban imposed by four EU member states in Eastern Europe has added to Ukraine’s concerns about its food exports.

Romania relieved Kiev by saying it would not join Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in banning food imports from Ukraine to protect local producers from an influx of cheap Ukrainian supplies.

Instead, Bucharest will wait for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to take steps to help farmers in central and eastern Europe.

“I think we need to wait … to see what the committee decides, and then we will meet again to set long-term rules, because Romania and Ukraine are big food producers,” Agriculture Minister Petre Dia said.

The Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta is Ukraine’s main grain transit hub, shipping about 12 million tons of Ukrainian grain in 2022 and the first quarter of this year.

Following talks with Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky, Daea said Romania and Ukraine would hold weekly consultations on expected grain production as Romania tried to curb imports.

Solski told reporters it was clear that the situation required a quick decision, adding: “We know that these decisions have to make Romanian farmers feel comfortable and … we wait for the European Commission.”

Grain deal hangs in the balance

The European Commission has announced plans to offer farmers in Eastern and Central Europe compensation for some of their products if the unilateral import ban is lifted, but the affected countries want to expand the list of products.

Poland went further than others, initially banning the transit of Ukrainian grain and food products through its territory. Warsaw agreed on Tuesday to lift the measures, and transit traffic resumed on Friday.

Dozens of Ukrainian food products, including sugar, meat, fruit and vegetables, are now allowed to be imported, but the products are not allowed to be sold on the country’s market.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the council’s support measures were too little, too late, after the government approved 10 billion zloty ($2.38 billion) in aid for Polish agriculture.

Black Sea grain exports, which are more important to Kiev than exports to Eastern Europe, are being negotiated on the status of the Black Sea Grain Initiative agreement reached last July to create safe shipping lanes.

The initiative, which lifted a blockade of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports five months after Russia invaded, aims to ease the global food crisis and support Ukraine.

Russia said it had agreed to extend the deal until May 18 only, although Kiev and its allies said the terms of the deal said the agreement should continue beyond that date.

Concerned about the ability to ship food from Black Sea ports, Ukraine has stepped up exports through ports on the Danube, which flows through central and southeastern Europe.

“There is no doubt that the Danube cluster has become a key factor for global food security in the face of limited operations at Black Sea ports,” Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook.

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