ISTANBUL, TURKEY — While discussions continue to secure a longer-term agreement, the United Nations welcomed news of the 60-day extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced the extension, and it was later confirmed by Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed Russia’s decision to continue its involvement in the initiative, which has allowed the safe export of more than 30 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine, via its Black Sea ports and also aims to ensure the flow of food and fertilizer from Russia through a separate Memorandum of Understanding. The deal had been set to expire May 18.

Guterres said the continuation was “good news for the world” although outstanding issues remain to be resolved.

“But representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations will keep discussing them,” he said. “I hope we will reach a comprehensive agreement to improve, expand and extend the initiative, as I proposed in a recent letter to the presidents of the three countries.”

The UN and Turkey brokered the Black Sea deal for an initial 120 days last July to help tackle a global food crisis that has been aggravated by Russia's invasion Feb. 24, 2022, of Ukraine, one of the world’s leading grain exporters. It has now been extended three times. The latest extension helped to drive down grain prices, with Chicago wheat futures and corn futures both falling by 3.4% on May 17.

Global food security was shaken by the war and subsequent price spikes, which had a particular impact on nations that heavily rely on grain from the Black Sea region to feed their people. The initiative has been credited with stabilizing prices, while the UN also said the deal has seen 625,000 tonnes of grain and foodstuffs reach World Food Progamme aid operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.

Moscow initially appeared unwilling to extend the pact unless a list of demands regarding its own agricultural exports was met. While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s government says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments.

Guterres said that he hoped exports of grain, food and fertilizer from both Ukraine and Russia, would reach global supply chains “safely and predictably,” as envisaged by all participants. The UN is fully committed to supporting both agreements, he added.

“These agreements matter for global food security,” he said. “Ukrainian and Russian products feed the world. Over the last year, markets have stabilized, volatility has been reduced, and we have seen global food prices fall by 20%.”

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN make up a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul, Turkey, which implements the Black Sea export deal via a humanitarian corridor. They authorize and inspect ships. No new vessels have been authorized by the JCC since May 4 as the deadline for renewal approached.

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly 30% of world wheat exports. Ukraine is also a major supplier of corn and the top shipper of sunflower oil, while Russia is the leading exporter of fertilizer, accounting for 15% of the total in 2021.

According to the JCC, corn (50.43%) and wheat (27.62%) make up the majority of shipments through the initiative as of May 11. Sunflower meal (5.48%), sunflower oil (5.14%), barley (3.95%), rapeseed (3.28%), soybeans (2.47%) and others (1.67%) round out the total.