Global wheat prices are experiencing volatility due to escalating threats surrounding grains trade in the Black Sea. Both Ukraine and Russia have issued warnings that ships headed to each other’s ports could be considered military targets. This development comes in response to US intelligence reports that Russia has laid explosives at Ukrainian ports. The Black Sea serves as a crucial exit route for agricultural commodities from both countries, and these threats pose a risk to global food trade, potentially leading to increased prices.
Wheat futures have been fluctuating between losses and gains in Thursday’s trade, following a surge of over 11% in the previous two sessions. Earlier this week, Russia terminated the Ukraine grain deal, which had temporarily helped to maintain trade flow and represented a rare example of Russian cooperation during the ongoing conflict. The breakdown of this trade route will now force supplies to world markets through narrower and more cumbersome avenues.
Since withdrawing from the grain deal, which was initially agreed upon a year ago, Russia has repeatedly targeted Ukraine’s agriculture infrastructure, including shelling ports and damaging crop terminals. One of Ukraine’s largest sunflower-oil producers, Kernel, has estimated that it will take at least a year to repair the damage at one of its facilities. This deliberate targeting of infrastructure marks a new phase in the conflict, according to Paris-based adviser Agritel. Additionally, the closure of export capacity coincides with the harvest of many of Ukraine’s crops, further exacerbating the situation.
All ships using the Black Sea corridor had departed Ukraine before the grain deal came to an end. The last vessel, the TQ Samsun, cleared its outbound inspection on Monday in Istanbul. The Black Sea ports are vital for Ukraine’s crop sales abroad, and the shutdown, coupled with the new threats to shipping, will necessitate the exploration of alternative routes to get Ukrainian crops to market. Ukraine has increased its reliance on Danube River ports and rail and road routes via the EU in response to these challenges.
These developments in the Black Sea region have significant implications for global wheat prices and the stability of the food trade. As tensions continue to escalate, it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold and what measures will be taken to mitigate the impact on agricultural commodities.