IN an exclusive interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Rebeca Grynspan, the top trade official at the UN, disclosed that the UN is partnering with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to establish a platform aimed at streamlining transactions for Russian exports of grain and fertiliser to Africa.
This initiative is part of an agreement made last July, where the UN committed to assisting Russia in overcoming any obstacles to its grain and fertiliser exports over a three-year period. The agreement was forged simultaneously with a deal permitting the secure Black Sea export of food and fertiliser from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
The objective of these agreements was to alleviate the global food crisis exacerbated by the conflict, as both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of grain and fertiliser for world markets, with Africa and the Middle East being particularly reliant on these commodities.
‘We have not turned the corner on this,’ remarked Rebeca Grynspan, who leads the implementation of the UN’s deal with Russia, emphasising the ongoing significance of the Black Sea accord and the UN-Russia pact as a ‘lifeline for food security’ worldwide.
The Black Sea deal was recently extended for the third time after Russia agreed to an additional two months. However, Moscow has issued threats to withdraw from the deal unless its demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports are met.
While Russia’s agricultural exports have not been subjected to Western sanctions imposed due to the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government claims that restrictions on payments, logistics, insurance, and a broader chilling effect resulting from the measures still exist. These complaints have been dismissed by the United States and other nations.
Grynspan revealed that she is collaborating with Afreximbank to assist small and medium-sized African countries in overcoming disrupted trade and accessing Russian grain and fertiliser through ‘more agile transactions.’ She explained, ‘We are working with them (Afreximbank) and developing a platform that will allow for more agile due diligence with clients to comply with the sanctions, while still enabling transactions of food and fertilisers with Africa.’
While Afreximbank, based in Cairo, was not available for immediate comment, Grynspan refrained from providing further details as discussions are still ongoing.
In June, the European Union disconnected Russia’s agricultural bank, Rosselkhozbank, from the SWIFT international payment network. Russia has been seeking its reconnection, but the EU has made it clear that the reinstatement of Russian banks is not under consideration.
As an alternative, sources informed Reuters last month that US bank JPMorgan Chase & Co has processed some Russian grain export payments and has the potential to handle dozens more. However, Russia has dismissed this option as unsuitable for the long term.
Additionally, about 260,000 metric tonnes of Russian fertiliser have been stranded in several European ports. Moscow has announced plans to donate the fertiliser to countries in need. The UN played a role in facilitating the release of the first two shipments to Malawi and Kenya. Grynspan stated that deliveries were also planned for Nigeria, as well as potentially Sri Lanka and South Africa.