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Russia Cuts Off Wheat, Other Grain Exports


Russia is the world's largest wheat exporter.

The Russian Agriculture Ministry announced on April 26 that it was suspending its export of most grains until July 1, seemingly shrugging off warnings from international organizations who are asking countries not to disrupt global food supply chains during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry said the Russian cutoff affected shipments of wheat, corn, rye, barley, and meslin, which is a mixture of wheat and rye.

It made no mention of the crisis from the coronavirus that has infected 185 countries or regions around the world and infected nearly 3 million people since emerging in central China in December 2019.

The supplies from Russia, the world's largest wheat exporter, will continue to fellow members of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EES), which includes other post-Soviet states Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Leaders of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned in a joint statement in late March that "as countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security."

British Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs George Eustice said on April 26 that there was "no serious disruption" to international flows of food, although he acknowledged that there had been "isolated cases" of trade being disrupted, for example goods from India.

The Russian Agriculture Ministry announced the April 26 move by saying a quota set earlier this month for exports through June had been "fully exhausted."

Moscow had said the quota was introduced to safeguard its national supplies and market.

The World Food Program (WFP) said in early April that while "disruptions are so far minimal" from the COVID-19 crisis, food supply "adequate," and markets "relatively stable," panics or other behavior changes could create major problems.

But spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said accompanying the release of a WFP report that "we may soon expect to see disruptions in food-supply chains."

An unnamed Iranian official was quoted on April 26 as saying that Tehran had allowed for the import of 3 million tons of wheat, more than half of it already unloaded to Iranian ports.

Kazakhstan has seen protests over wheat and flour supplies and said recently that it might abolish quotas on wheat and flour exports.

A Reuters report said less than 1 million tons of a recently announced Russian 7 million-ton quota for April-June remained by April 25, owing to a deluge of orders for later exports.

It quoted analysts suggesting that while the quota might be formally exhausted, grain exports so far in April were probably around 4 million and 3 million tons more might be spoken for but would probably ship out in May and June.

Russia exported more than 35 million tons of wheat and 43 million tons of all grains in 2018-19, RIA Novosti reported.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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