NEW YORK: The US hopes India will "reconsider" its decision to ban wheat exports, with Washington "encouraging" countries not to restrict exports as that will exacerbate food shortages, amidst Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
India, the world's second-biggest wheat producer, has banned wheat exports in a bid to check high domestic prices amid concerns of wheat output being hit by scorching heat waves.
The decision would help control retail prices of wheat and wheat flour, which have risen by an average 14-20 per cent in the last one year, besides meeting the foodgrain requirement of neighbouring and vulnerable countries.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, during a virtual New York Foreign Press Center briefing on Monday, said: "We have seen the report of India's decision. We're encouraging countries not to restrict exports because we think any restrictions on exports will exacerbate the food shortages".
"But you've again, India will be one of the countries participating in our meeting at the Security Council, and we hope that they can, as they hear the concerns being raised by other countries, that they would reconsider that position," she said. Thomas-Greenfield was responding to a question on India's decision to restrict wheat exports.
The US envoy said that Ukraine used to be a breadbasket for the developing world, but ever since Russia started blocking crucial ports and destroying civilian infrastructure and grain silos, hunger situations in Africa and the Middle East are getting even more dire. This is a crisis for the whole world, and so it belongs to the UN.
"We have a responsibility to the millions who are worried about where they'll find their next meal or how they'll feed their families. This week is about owning that responsibility and taking action to alleviate food insecurity around the globe," she said.
The US is President of the UN Security Council for the month of May and will host a signature event on food security this week against the backdrop of international conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war that have brought food insecurity to the fore.
On May 19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will preside over an open debate on the 'Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Conflict and Food Security.'
On the eve of the Security Council meeting, Blinken on Wednesday will chair a global food security call to action ministerial meeting which will bring together officials from dozens of countries to review their urgent humanitarian and development needs to address global food security, nutrition and resilience, Thomas-Greenfield said.
"This will include countries with diverse perspectives ranging from major food providers to those facing significant food crises," she said.
Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V Muraleedharan, who will be in New York from May 17 to May 20, will participate in the high-level Ministerial Meeting on Global Food Security - Call to Action' and deliver a statement at the UNSC open debate.
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) had said in a notification last week that wheat exports will be allowed on the basis of permission granted by the Government of India to other countries to meet their food security needs and based on the request of their governments.
India's wheat exports stood at an all-time high of 7 million tonnes, valuing USD 2.05 billion, in 2021-22 fiscal year on better demand of Indian wheat from overseas. Of the total wheat exports, around 50 per cent of shipments were exported to Bangladesh in the last fiscal.
Thomas-Greenfield had said that the open debate will examine the nexus between conflict and food security and the Council will consider steps needed to ensure increasing food security does not drive new conflicts, instability, particularly in fragile states. The US on Monday launched several days of action on global food security, an issue Thomas-Greenfield said has been a priority for the Biden administration from day one.
"The hard truth we have to reckon with is that people starve every day all around the world even though we have more than enough food to go around. Worse, many go hungry and don't know where their next meal will come from because warmongers are intentionally using starvation as a weapon of war."
"Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Yemen are just a few examples of places where conflict is driving people to desperate hunger. These days of action are about bringing this crisis to the center of the world's attention, and this all takes on heightened significance given Russia's brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine", Thomas-Greenfield said.
India has noted with concern that the Ukraine conflict is having a destabilising effect with broader regional and global implications.
"Oil prices are skyrocketing and there is shortage of food grains and fertilisers. This has had a disproportionate impact on the Global South and developing countries," India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti has said.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in Vienna that he is "deeply concerned" over hunger becoming widespread in different parts of the world because of the "dramatic food security situation we are facing because of the war in Ukraine."
It is my belief that, independently of many other solutions that deal with the need to keep markets open, to avoid export bans, to do everything to interfere in the markets to keep prices as low as possible.
"I do believe that there is no solution to the problem without bringing back to the markets the food production of Ukraine and the food and fertiliser production of the Russian Federation and Belarus," Guterres had said.