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United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an increase of agricultural exports as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), following a slowdown in shipments, according to a UN spokesman quoted by World Grain.

Brokered last July by the UN and Turkey, the BSGI was set up to help tackle a global food crisis heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the 21 June report said.

The deal covers the “safe navigation of exports of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilisers, including ammonia” from the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

Food exports through the maritime humanitarian corridor had dropped “significantly” from a peak of 4.2M tonnes in October 2022 to 1.3M tonnes in May, the lowest volume since the BSGI began last year, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the secretary-general, was quoted as saying.

“The secretary-general calls on the parties to accelerate operations and urges them to do their utmost to ensure the continuation of this vital agreement, which is up for renewal on 17 July,” Haq added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying by World Grain on 14 June that Russia was considering withdrawing from the BSGI, which was renewed for 60 days on 17 May, as it had failed to deliver any of its promises to export Russia’s agricultural commodities and fertiliser to global markers.

The deal has been renewed three times, most recently on 17 May for 60 days.

The BSGI also allowed for ammonia shipments, although none had been delivered, World Grain wrote.

Prior to the conflict, Russia pumped up to 2.5M tonnes/year of ammonia to Pivdennyi port for global export, but the pipeline had been shut down by the war, the report said. Russia has also accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up part of the pipeline earlier in June.

Restarting the pipeline was one of Russia’s demands while negotiating the extension of the BSGI and, in May, it began stopping vessels travelling to Pivdennyi port under the deal until the ammonia pipeline was restarted, World Grain wrote.

While Russian exports of food and fertiliser were not subject to Western sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance had been a barrier to shipments, the report said.

“The UN is fully committed to supporting the implementation of both the Black Sea [Grain] Initiative and the Memorandum of Understanding on Russian food and fertiliser exports so that exports of food and fertilisers, including ammonia, from the Russian Federation and Ukraine reach markets around the world safely and predictably,” Haq was quoted as saying.

“This is especially critical now as the new grain harvest begins in both Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”