Have Western sanctions on Russia impacted its wheat exports?
Russia's wheat production has risen by more than 60% over the last decade to make it the world's largest exporter. It is expected to account for more than 20% of global wheat trade this season.
PARIS, May 11 (Reuters) — Russia wants the West to remove obstacles to the export of its grain and fertilizers before it agrees to the extension of a deal allowing safe Black Sea exports of agricultural products from three Ukrainian ports.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered the agreement in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis worsened by the conflict in Ukraine.
The deal is set to expire on May 18 and talks about an extension are taking place in Istanbul.
How important is Russia as a wheat exporter?
Russia's wheat production has risen by more than 60% over the last decade to make it the world's largest exporter. It is expected to account for more than 20% of global wheat trade in the current 2022/23 season, thanks to competitive prices and ample supplies.
Many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia rely on Russia and other Black Sea origins including Ukraine for milling and feed-quality wheat supplies.
The war has made it more difficult to assess Black Sea production and export volumes. Russia stopped publishing customs data in March 2022.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its April forecasts pegged Russian wheat exports at a record 45.0 million tonnes in the 2022/23 season, up 36% from the prior year and 3.5 million tonnes above the previous record 2017/18 season. Russian grain consultancy SovEcon estimates wheat exports of 43.0 million tonnes in the 2023/24 season.
For the European Union, the next largest exporter, the USDA forecasts 2022/23 wheat exports at 35.0 million tons, well below Russia's expected shipments.
What Moscow wants
Moscow's demands for renewing the Black Sea grain corridor, which it says mostly benefits Ukraine, include the removal of obstacles to Russian grain and fertilizer exports such as the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the SWIFT global payment system.
Other demands include the resumption of supplies of agricultural machinery and parts, lifting restrictions on insurance and reinsurance and the unblocking of assets and accounts of Russian companies involved in food and fertilizer exports.
Has the West sanctioned Russian wheat exports?
No direct sanctions have been imposed on Russian grain trade. Sanctions were imposed on some Russian banks, companies and individuals, and these have made it more difficult for Russian exporters to ship grains and arrange payments.
Have sanctions limited exports?
Even with exports running at a record pace, after a record harvest last summer Russia's wheat stocks at the end of the 2022/23 season on June 30 will still be the highest in nearly 30 years, according to USDA data.
Wheat exports in the 2021/22 season, which included the first months of the conflict, dropped to five-year low of 33 million tons as banks and insurers became reluctant to work with Russian exporters, although a strong ruble a state grain export tax also contributed to the slowing of shipments.
However, in July and November, the United States and Britain issued licenses allowing transactions related to Russia's agricultural commodities, including the provision of insurance and other services.
The U.S. also clarified that agricultural commodities are not the target of its sanctions, increasing the willingness to handle Russian grain.
What other factors have limited Russia's wheat exports?
Availability of railway wagons is one logistical constraint, exacerbated by military operations.
The Russian government has imposed export quotas and an export tax for wheat and other crops to secure domestic supply and curb domestic food inflation.
Traders have cited the tax as a drag on competitiveness and its fluctuating rate as a disincentive for foreign merchants to handle Russian grain.
Moscow has also reportedly asked exporters to adopt a minimum wheat export price in order to protect farmers' income, though the functioning of the semi-official scheme is unclear.
Several of the world's largest crop merchants have announced they will halt operations in Russia from the start of the new season in July, citing growing export challenges. However, the impact on shipments may be modest given that the operations are expected to continue under different management.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Gus Trompiz and Forrest Crellin in Paris, Polina Devitt and Nigel Hunt in London, editing by Simon Webb, Kirsten Donovan)
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