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Ukraine grain exports deal to be signed next week, says Turkey

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Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are due to sign a deal next week aimed at resuming Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports, but UN chief Antonio Guterres warned there was still “a long way to go” before there would be peace talks to end the war.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the deal to be signed next week includes joint controls for checking shipments in harbors and Turkey ensuring the safety of Black Sea export routes. Turkey would also set up a coordination center with Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations for grain exports.

Guterres was a little more cautious, telling reporters that “hopefully we’ll be able to have a final agreement” next week, adding: “I’m optimistic, but it’s not yet fully done.”

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“We have seen a critical step forward,” Guterres said in New York. “More technical work will now be needed to materialize today’s progress. But the momentum is clear.”

When it came to prospects for peace talks to end the war in Ukraine - started when Russia invaded on February 24 - Guterres said that Moscow and Kyiv had shown they could engage with each other, “but for peace we still have a long way to go.”

The war in Ukraine has sent prices soaring for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer. Russia’s invasion and sea blockade has stalled exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and some 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos at Odesa.

Ukraine and Russia are major global wheat suppliers, and Russia is also a large fertilizer exporter, while Ukraine is a significant producer of corn and sunflower oil.

‘Breakthrough’

A senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said most of the sticking points in the talks to resume Ukraine Black Sea exports had been overcome, describing the discussions in Istanbul as a “breakthrough.”

Before the talks on Wednesday, diplomats said details of the plan included Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters; Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move; and Turkey - supported by the United Nations - inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.

Ukraine also sparked hopes on Tuesday for an increase in grain exports despite Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports, noting that ships had started to pass through an important mouth of the Danube River.

The United Nations is also working to try and facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports.

Russia has continued to export grain since the war started but there is a lack of large vessels as many owners are afraid to send them to the region. Cost of freight and insurance have also risen sharply.

The United States has said Russian grain and fertilizer are not subject to sanctions and has offered to give written assurances to shipping companies and importing countries.

Farmers of both countries are currently harvesting the 2022 wheat crop. July-November is usually the busiest time for traders to ship the new crop.

The coming harvest is also at risk as Ukraine is now short of storage space due to the halt in exports.

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