Ukraine’s New Farm Chief Vows to Keep Food Exports Flowing

Ukraine’s new agriculture minister pledged not to follow neighboring crop giant Russia’s protectionist food stance, saying the key grains exporter has plenty to go around.

While Ukrainian authorities have reportedly discussed measures to cap rising prices of staples such as sunflower oil and bread, Roman Leshchenko said there are no grounds to curb any crop exports. On the contrary, he said the country expects to expand its global reach in the grains and oilseeds market.

The Black Sea region has become an increasingly dominant grains supplier in the past decade, aided by low costs and big harvests. But top wheat shipper Russia issued grain-export quotas and taxes for this year to safeguard domestic supply and tame food inflation. That echoed curbs from some nations early in the pandemic, which prompted the United Nations to urge against “beggar-thy-neighbor policies” seen during a global food crisis a decade ago.

“Ukraine plays a crucial role for the global supply chain,” Leshchenko, who became agriculture minister in December after the government restored the ministry, said in one of his first interviews since his appointment. “The last thing we should do is to play games with protectionism, as we have a potential to become a food marketplace for the whole world.”

Ukraine’s New Farm Chief Vows to Keep Food Exports Flowing

Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest corn exporter, the top shipper of sunflower oil and a major supplier of wheat. Prices of those crops have rallied as robust Chinese demand helps tighten global supplies.

Ukraine’s this week reported that the government is mulling price caps for sunflower oil and bread after costs surged. It said Economy Minister Ihor Petrashko has hinted that sunflower-oil exports may be limited if no price-cap solution is found.

The government on Thursday said that the economy ministry held discussions with local industry groups, including baking associations, and that there’s agreement that the domestic food market is adequately supplied. The ministry will monitor food prices to help keep the market stable, it said.

Along with the economy minster, Leshchenko is an influential member of the Cabinet, which decides on agriculture policies. Economy ministry officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of strict caps on crop exports, because they’re crucial to the country’s economy. Leshchenko said the only acceptable measures are export targets, which are goals rather than stringent limits.

The agriculture chief said he’d favor removing corn and wheat export targets, which are common in Ukraine, if farmers reap abundant harvests this year. More than 80% of the country’s winter crops are in good or satisfactory shape following plentiful snowfall, and total grains production may match a record 75 million tons this year if favorable conditions continue, he said.

Leshchenko declined to give a forecast for exports. By March 17, Ukraine exported 33.6 million tons of grains so far this season, down 23% from a year earlier. Going forward, the country plans to boost grain and oilseed sales to destinations including China, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, potentially grabbing market share from rivals.

“Look at neighbor Russia. Being adherent to the policy of restrictions and protectionism, they have created for us fantastic, comfortable opportunities,” Leshchenko said.

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