Exclusive: Ukraine wants grain deal expanded, eyes decision next week
KYIV, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Ukraine wants the Black Sea grain export deal expanded to include more ports and goods, and hopes a decision to extend the agreement for at least a year will be taken next week, Ukraine's deputy infrastructure minister said on Tuesday.
The deal, which eased a global food crisis by unblocking three major Ukrainian ports during Russia's invasion, expires on Nov. 19 and briefly appeared imperilled last month when Moscow suspended its participation in the deal before rejoining again.
"(We) are already very late (giving) clear information to the market about the extension (of the agreement)," Yuriy Vaskov, the deputy minister, told Reuters in an interview.
"We hope that no later than next week from our partners Turkey and the UN we will have an understanding and the whole market will also have a clear signal about the further functioning and continuation of the initiative," he said.
The deal has allowed about 10.5 million tonnes of Ukrainian food, mainly grain, to be delivered to foreign markets since it was agreed in July under the mediation of Turkey and the United Nations.
Vaskov said Ukraine had offered an extension of at least one year to Turkey and UN, as well as a broadening of the deal to include the ports of the southern Mykolaiv region, which provided 35% of Ukrainian food exports before Russia's invasion.
Kyiv has also demanded that mandatory inspections of ships that are involved in food transportation be "streamlined", as Kyiv believes Russia is deliberately slowing down inspections to reduce the speed of exports, he said.
"We are already ... demanding inspections be streamlined or inspections of departed (ships) be cancelled, because it makes no sense. Or else increase the number of inspection teams," Vaskov said.
He noted that exports under the agreement could amount to 15 million tonnes, if Russia did not delay the inspection of ships.
Vaskov said that inspectors of the Joint Center that oversees the deal conducted only 12 inspections per day, but that it was necessary to make 25-30 inspections.
"When Turkey and the UN did their own inspections, they proved it was possible to carry out more than 40 inspections a day. Now that Russia has returned ... we again have a total of 12 inspections per day," he said.
"They do not explain (the reason for the delays), but they also do not hide that they are doing this in order to complicate the work of the corridor," said Vaskov.
Vaskov said neither the UN nor Turkey had informed Kyiv about the conditions for extending the agreement put forward by Russia.
Moscow has said it has received guarantees the grain corridor will not be used for military purposes. The UN has said that it would continue working on easier conditions for the export of the Russian fertilisers.
Vaskov said Kyiv advocated the exclusively peaceful use of the grain corridor, and that the current agreement involved the export of fertilizers.
However, he said that so far there had not been a single application from ships wishing to transport ammonia from Ukrainian ports.
"Ukraine has confirmed and confirms now that the grain corridor is only for ships that take part in the initiative - both in the past and in the future," the deputy minister said.
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