While the West makes its food policy always safeguarding its domestic interest first, agriculture ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) today condemned India’s decision to ban unapproved wheat exports after a punishing heatwave hit the country. “If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis,” German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said at a press conference in Stuttgart.
India today banned exports of such wheat produce that has not received prior government approval after scorching temperatures hit recent production of the crop, in a blow to countries affected by supply shortages because of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, said that factors including lower wheat production and sharply higher global prices because of the war meant that it was now worried about its own “food security”.
All export deals agreed before the directive issued yesterday could still be honoured, but all future shipments needed to have government approval. However, India may entertain requests by other governments on a bilateral basis “to meet their food security needs”.
Traditional breadbasket Ukraine has seen shipments disrupted, with the Ukrainian agriculture minister travelling to Stuttgart for discussions with G7 colleagues on getting its produce out. About “20 million tonnes” of wheat were sitting in Ukrainian silos and “urgently” needed to be exported, Ozdemir said.
Before the invasion, Ukraine exported 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12% of the planet’s wheat, 15% of its corn and half of its sunflower oil. Then, with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are much less efficient.
At this critical juncture, ministers of the G7 countries urged countries around the world not to take restrictive action that could pile further stress on the produce markets. They “spoke out against export stops and call as well for markets to be kept open”, said Ozdemir, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the group. “We call on India to assume its responsibility as a G20 member,” Ozdemir said.
The G7 agriculture ministers would also “recommend” the topic be addressed at the G7 summit in Germany in June, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been invited to attend.
India may send wheat to Egypt
Meanwhile, the adverse reactions from industrially developed countries notwithstanding, Egypt is in talks with Indian officials about getting an exemption from India’s decision to ban wheat exports, Egypt’s plant quarantine head Ahmed El Attar told Reuters.
“There are talks between India and Egypt on the highest levels to be part of the exemptions of this decision,” El Attar informed the news agency, adding “there’s constant communication with our ambassador in New Delhi.”
April, Egypt’s agriculture ministry announced it had approved India as a source of wheat supplies as the North African country seeks to supplant purchases disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Egypt has been working to diversify its purchases, holding talks with France, Argentina and the United States. El Attar said earlier today that Egypt is also considering importing wheat from Pakistan and Mexico.
Last week, a plant quarantine delegation headed by El Attar travelled to India to inspect the first Indian wheat shipment headed to Egypt. The shipment was purchased by Egypt’s private sector.
According to El Attar, more than 45,000 tonnes out of 63,000 tonnes were already loaded on the ship before the export ban was announced.
A statement by the agriculture ministry said the shipment had passed the inspection process, with El Attar adding it had the highest protein levels compared with any other origin.