U.S. to push Russia to fulfill Ukraine grain deal, says China is stockpiling

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Cargo ships heads from Black Sea to Danube, in Odesa region, Ukraine

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United States said on Friday it will hold Russia accountable for implementing a U.N.-brokered deal to resume Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports and called out China for stockpiling grain that could be used for global humanitarian needs.

Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor sent food prices soaring, stoking a global food crisis the World Food Programme says has pushed some 47 million people into "acute hunger."

Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on Friday to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports. The war has stalled Kyiv's exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and some 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington hopes the deal "will help mitigate the crisis Russia has caused," adding that "we will be watching closely to ensure that Russia actually follows through."

The United States also wants to see China help combat the global food crisis, James O'Brien, head of the U.S. State Department's Office of Sanctions Coordination, told reporters.

"We would like to see it act like the great power that it is and provide more grain to the poor people around the world," he said. "China has been a very active buyer of grain and it is stockpiling grain... at a time when hundreds of millions of people are entering the catastrophic phase of food insecurity."

'EXTREMELY IRRESPONSIBLE'

China's grain stocks at the end of the 2021/22 season were estimated by the International Grains Council to be 323.4 million tonnes, more than half the global total of 607.4 million. They dwarf those of the United States, the world's top grain exporter, which were estimated at 57.8 million tonnes.

"We would like to see them play more of a role of making the grain available from their own stockpiles and by allowing WFP (World Food Programme) and others to obtain grain," said O'Brien.

He said some 40% of the first grain shipments out of Ukraine in April went to China "which was awkward," adding: "It would have been much better to see that grain going to Egypt, in the Horn of Africa and other places."

The Chinese Embassy in Washington said that China needs to maintain a certain amount of grain reserves because it has less than 9% of the world's farmland, but it accounts for one fifth of the world's population.

"We contribute actively to tackling global food security issues," said embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu, citing Beijing's work with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the WFP, and a contribution of some 30,000 tonnes of emergency humanitarian food aid to developing countries.

"While accusing other countries of hoarding grains and urging them to release their stockpiles, the U.S. has done nothing to reduce its own food consumed for energy and has even exploited the situation to inflate grains prices and seek selfish profits, which is extremely irresponsible," Liu said.

(Additional reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Rosalba O'Brien)

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