On July 22, 2022, representatives of Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations held a signing ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, on the issue of the export of agricultural products from Black Sea ports. The agreement is the “Black Sea Food Initiative”. The content of the agreement includes establishing a joint coordination center in Istanbul and ensuring the safety of food transportation. Both Russia and Ukraine agree that neither party will attack the delivery ships. The Istanbul joint coordination center will be designated by all parties to jointly manage the ships entering and leaving the port. The three Ukrainian ports of Ernomosk and Yuzhny will ship food and fertilizers and other products through the Black Sea “maritime humanitarian corridor”. The agreement is initially valid for 120 days. On August 1, the first grain merchant ship “Lazzoni” left the port of Odessa. The final achievement and preliminary implementation of the “Black Sea Food Initiative” is inseparable from the joint efforts of the relevant Quartet, of which Turkey plays an important role, and the United Nations plays a key “background” role.
Global food insecurity situation worsens
The issue of food security is not only related to the basic survival of a country’s people, but also has a systemic impact on the country’s political, economic and social ecology, and even has spillover effects and may lead to regional conflicts. Russia and Ukraine are both the world’s major grain producers and exporters, and Russia is also the world’s leading fertilizer producer and exporter. The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in February 2022 caused a huge impact on the export of food and fertilizers in both countries, which further exacerbated the global food insecurity situation caused by the new crown epidemic, regional conflicts and blocked transportation routes in recent years.
The United Nations is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the global food problem since the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, which has particularly hit the food consumption of hundreds of millions of people in many Middle Eastern and African countries that rely heavily on imports. Seeing that the hope of reaching the “2030 Global Zero Hunger Goal” set by the United Nations is fading, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged Russia and Ukraine to carry out negotiations on food issues. In April, Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky respectively and established two working groups: a group led by UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths to deal with Ukraine The other group is in charge of the export of grains through the Black Sea Route; Rebecca Greenspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, is responsible for the export of Russian grains and fertilizers. In addition, on the day when the “Black Sea Food Initiative” was reached, the United Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to promote the export of Russian grain and fertilizers, which is valid for three years.
At the same time, the measures taken by the United States and Western countries out of consideration of their own food and economic interests also objectively help Russia and Ukraine to achieve a compromise in the export of food and fertilizers. Although Russia and Ukraine are the world’s major wheat and corn producing areas, and Russia is also the world’s largest fertilizer exporter, the seeds of these two countries are highly dependent on imports, especially from the United States and Western countries. The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis has led to unsalable food and fertilizers in the two countries, which not only directly affects the global grain trade, but also affects the healthy development of the global seed market. Therefore, although the United States and Western countries have been besieging Russia and wielding sanctions, they have been quite shrewd when it comes to food and agricultural products. The United States is even more “practical”. Before the “Black Sea Food Initiative” was reached, it imported urea ammonium nitrate solution (UAN) liquid fertilizer from Russia. The US International Trade Commission also rejected the US Department of Commerce’s imposition of high anti-dumping tariffs on Russian UAN liquid fertilizer ‘s proposal. In August, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield also said during a visit to Africa that other countries could buy Russian food and fertilizers, but not trade beyond that.
Turkey’s “different approach” mediation
In recent years, Turkey’s diplomacy has been “walking a tightrope” between Russia and the United States and the West, and the “zero-issue” diplomacy it promoted was once caught in the embarrassing situation of “all-issue” diplomacy. Since 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accelerated the pace of repairing relations with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries, creating a favorable surrounding environment for the promotion of his own major-country diplomacy. After the escalation of the Ukraine crisis, Turkey used its unique status as a non-Western NATO member to do everything possible to gain a place for itself in the reconstruction of the global order under the impact of the new crown epidemic and the escalation of the Ukraine crisis. Under the strong promotion of Turkey, although Russia and Ukraine launched several rounds of peace talks in Istanbul, the effect was not obvious. Turkey is well aware that trying to solve the problems related to the escalating crisis in Ukraine in a “package” in the short term is almost impossible.
Therefore, Turkey has taken a different approach, starting from the negative impact of the escalation of the crisis on global food security, in an attempt to solve the problem of Russia-Ukrainian food and fertilizer exports that the United Nations is concerned about. On June 8, the Russian Foreign Minister visited Turkey. The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey discussed issues such as the Ukrainian grain export mechanism and the opening of the “Black Sea Grain Corridor”. On July 13, Turkey held talks in Istanbul with representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations, and discussed issues such as legal documents and frameworks for Ukrainian grain shipments. Putin and Erdogan also met in Iran on July 19. One of the topics discussed by the two sides was the issue of Ukrainian grain exports. Under the intensive diplomatic promotion of Turkey, on July 22, the relevant Quartet finally reached a “Black Sea Food Initiative” in Istanbul, and Istanbul, where the joint coordination center is located, played a central role in the initiative.
Turkey has further consolidated and expanded its position in international relations through the Black Sea Food Initiative. First, Russia has increased its trust in Turkey. The “Black Sea Food Initiative” promoted by Turkey has also brought positive effects to Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports. On August 5, Erdogan met with Putin again in Sochi, Russia. Putin thanked him for the issue of grain exports from the Black Sea port, saying that Turkey played an important role. Second, the skeptical attitude of Middle East and African countries towards Turkey may also be improved to a certain extent. For a long time, Turkey’s diplomacy has been strongly opportunistic, and Erdogan’s series of diplomatic measures on the “Black Sea Food Initiative” this time have an altruistic tendency, which will benefit the vast number of food consuming countries in the Middle East and Africa. Finally, the achievement of the “Black Sea Food Initiative” is beyond the expectations of the United States and the West, and the United States and Western countries will also pay more attention to Turkey’s special position in coordinating the relationship between the United States and the West and Russia.
Advancing risks have not yet been ruled out
Although from the strategic perspective of global food security and world food economy, the “Black Sea Food Initiative” has transcendent and practical significance for contemporary international conflict resolution, but from the perspective of concrete implementation, there are still many risks.
First, Ukraine’s “default” on grain exports due to the escalation of the crisis led to the rejection of outbound grains. After the Black Sea Food Initiative was reached, the commercial vessel “Lazzoni”, carrying 26,000 tons of corn on its maiden voyage, did not arrive in Lebanon as planned, because local buyers canceled the delivery on the grounds that the Ukrainian side delayed the delivery by five months. order, the shipping agent had to find a new buyer for the grain.
Second, the security of Ukrainian-related ports is still at risk of being affected by the Ukrainian crisis. The Black Sea Food Initiative came as several missiles hit the port of Odessa and some Ukrainian ships caught fire. In the face of accusations by the Ukrainian side, the Russian side said that its goal was to attack the military facilities in the port, and no civilian targets were involved.
Third, the insurance related to the Black Sea shipping has not been popularized. In addition to the risk of being affected by the Ukraine crisis, there is also the threat of displaced mines on the Black Sea Route. This makes some insurance giants hesitant to provide insurance for grain ships in the Black Sea, and the lack of insurance will also increase the economic risks of grain ships, and even weaken the willingness of merchants to go to the Black Sea for grain.