The Ukrainian flag shows a yellow field against a blue sky. That yellow field is a grain field.
Grain is an emblem of Ukraine. After all, it’s the breadbasket of Europe and the world’s seventh largest producer of grain.
Naturally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a detrimental impact on the Ukrainian economy. Moreover, the global economy — particularly, the global grain supply.
Global food prices were sent soaring. Countries as far away as Africa found wheat prices to grow by a staggering 45%. Traders had to scramble to fill the gaps left by Ukrainian exports.
Ukraine is a major player in staple food commodities, from wheat and corn to sunflower oil. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent a ripple across the global economy. Ukraine could no longer safely export its products. A vacuum ensued in staple crop commodities. Exporters from other countries have been competing to fill in the gaps in production.
Here is a table with Ukraine exports in 2021, top 10 commodities
Commodity Million metric tons Iron ores and concentrates 41.8 Corn 27.2 Wheat 21.2 Basic iron and steel 10.4 Salt, sulphur, earths, plastering materials, lime and cement 7.6 Food industry residues and wastes 6.4 Animal and vegetable oils, excl. soybean oil 6.1 Flat-rolled products of iron and steel 5.4 Other grains and cereals, incl. rye, barley, oats 4.3 Sunflower seeds, rapeseed and colza seeds 3.9 Source: IHS Markit, GTAS Forecasting
Ukraine’s fertile black chernozem soil allows them to produce enormous quantities of grains like corn and wheat — a staggering 13% of global corn exports and more than 10% of wheat. When taken together, Ukraine’s biggest export is grains.
However, grains aren’t lucrative exports because they are widely-grown staple crops. Take S&P Global Market Intelligence’s 2021 GTAS forecasting. 21.2 million metric tonnes of wheat brought in USD 4.72 billion for the country in 2021. Whereas sunflower seeds, rapeseeds and colza seeds, sold at 3.9 million metric tonnes, brought in USD 6.31 billion.
Of course, Ukraine isn’t just a breadbasket — it boasts the fifth-largest crude iron ore reserves in the world. In 2021, USD 6.81 billion worth of iron ores and concentrate was exported from Ukraine — in terms of metric tonnes, that’s a massive 41.8 million.
Although the potential for Ukraine’s iron ore exports doesn’t translate from its enormous reserves — their exports account for only 3.1% of global iron ore exports.
Rank Ukraine Export Goods 2021 Value (USD'k) 2020-1 1 Iron ores and concentrates $ 6,810,644 +60.7% 2 Sun/safflower/cotton-seed oil $ 6,310,573 +18.6% 3 Corn $ 5,854,587 +19.9% 4 Wheat $ 4,722,745 +31.4% 5 Iron or non-alloy steel products (semi-finished) $ 3,888,485 +41.4% 6 Hot-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products $ 3,436,732 +114.9% 7 Insulated wire/cable $ 1,625,403 +20.3% 8 Pig iron $ 1,576,713 +71% 9 Rape/colza seeds $ 1,359,008 +35% 10 Miscellaneous oil cakes $ 1,275,725 +8.2% Source: https://www.worldstopexports.com/ukraines-top-10-exports/
Most impressive, perhaps, is Ukraine’s domination of the global seed oils market.
Seed oils constitute around 40% of the world’s total exports. Among global exporters, Ukraine ranks first in sunflower oil exports (46% of global exports), totalling USD 6.4 billion in value — 4.95 million metric tons between 2021-2022 — its sunflower oil going to the European Union and as far as India and China.
Ukraine is a mass producer of staple crops. As such, Ukraine exports to many countries — from Europe to Asia.
Ukraine Exports By Country Value Year China $ 7.99B 2021 Poland $ 4.98B 2021 Turkey $ 4.00B 2021 Russia $ 3.35B 2021 Italy $ 3.24B 2021 Germany $ 2.79B 2021 India $ 2.51B 2021 Netherlands $ 2.13B 2021 Egypt $ 1.91B 2021 Spain $ 1.64B 2021 Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/ukraine/exports-by-country
Ukraine’s top trading partner in 2021 was China, according to UN Comtrade Database. 12% of all goods exported from Ukraine (USD 7.99 billion) went into China. Poland (7.6%, $ 4.98b), Turkey (6.1%, $ 4.00b), Russia (5.1%, $ 3.35b), followed suit.
Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th of February 2022 and has since occupied about 90,000 square kilometres (around 15% of Ukraine’s total area).
Earlier this year, most of Ukraine’s seaports along the Black and Azov Seas were seized and shut down by Russia. Ukraine’s exports ground to a halt.
The result was soaring food prices worldwide, exacerbated by the post-pandemic supply chain woes. Inflation hit record highs. The African Development Bank recorded that wheat prices increased by 45% in Africa due to the impact of the war.
In July 2022, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the United Nations brokered a grain deal between Moscow and Kyiv. Three Black Sea ports, Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhne, were reopened. More than 4 million tonnes of grains have been shipped so far as a result of this deal. Both Russia and Ukraine stand to benefit. Ukraine has marginally regained access to international trade, and Russia hopes to ease the negative impact of the grain and fertiliser sanctions imposed on them.
In 2021, the country receiving the highest proportion of Ukrainian wheat was Egypt. But the war had unintended consequences. Within a month of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia had exported 580% more wheat to Egypt than it had in the previous year.
There is a huge demand for grains and seed oils worldwide. Bulgaria, Romania, Brazil, and Argentina traders received higher demand for wheat in March this year. Romania is investing in food processing factories and shifting toward natural gas fertilisers, aiming to fill the agricultural gaps left by Ukraine and Russia.
2022 was a challenging year for global traders — they faced food supply and energy insecurities.
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