A grain combine harvester collecting wheat near Novoazovsk outside Mariupol, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
Moscow has complained its grain and fertiliser exports continue to face issues over sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine, despite two agreements signed on July 22 that called for sanctions to spare agriculture-related products and granted safe passage for Ukrainian grain exports.
The second of those agreements, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, has been working quite well, allowing millions of tonnes of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, and relieving some fears over a deepening global food security crisis.
Ukraine is one of the world's top grain producers and the Russian invasion had blocked 20 million tonnes of grain in its ports until the safe passage deal was agreed.
But concerns have been increasing over that deal as well after Russia briefly exited it over a drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea on Saturday, and with a November 19 renewal deadline looming.
The Kremlin said Thursday it had yet to decide if it will extend its participation.
But UN trade negotiator Rebeca Grynspan told reporters in Geneva that she had "hope that the parties will be responsible and will extend and expand the Black Sea grain initiative".
And she said significant progress was being made towards unblocking the situation with Russia's fertiliser exports.
"We are working very hard making that facilitation, (and) have concrete results," said Grynspan, who heads the UN's trade and development agency UNCTAD.
'Secondary effects' of sanctions
"We have made important steps forward, but there is still a road to be travelled, especially with respect to the fertiliser crunch that we are seeing in the world."
She acknowledged that fertiliser exports from Russia -- the world's largest producer -- continue to face significant obstacles, but said "we have been clarifying and engaging with the EU, the US and the UK to solve these problems.
"I think that we are making progress," she said, though adding that the negotiators had not made "all the progress that I would want to see right now".
"It is a difficult issue, it is a complex ecosystem."
She explained that while agriculture products were exempt from sanctions on Russia, the world's largest exporter of fertiliser -- was suffering "secondary effects" of the sanctions.
The private sector was wary of engaging in Russian fertiliser exports, in some cases perhaps mistakenly believing they were covered by the sanctions or for fear of drawing the ire of Western countries.
"The secondary effects of the sanctions can put important obstacles still in the market," Grynspan said.
This has caused fertiliser prises to soar globally, taking a heavy toll on small farmers especially.
Grynspan said that an indicator of progress would be if some of the fertiliser currently stranded in European ports could be sent on to countries most in need "before the sowing season is over".
"That is our main priority right now," she said. "The prices of fertilisers and the access to fertilisers by small farmers has to be solved".
"If not, we will have a very, very difficult challenge in 2023, when the crisis of food affordability will become a crisis of food availability."