Editor’s Note: On March 11, 2022, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Vince Peterson commented on the Russian government’s role as a source of great uncertainty for the world’s wheat producers, sellers and buyers. One year later, the price disruption of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine continues. While prices have settled since the invasion started, the market still moves on every scrap of news from the Black Sea region. Reprinted here are Mr. Peterson’s views then, providing perspective today.
Once again, and tragically this time, Russian intervention is the underlying source of dramatic global wheat price volatility.
“…We are closely monitoring prices for the most essential social goods such as food, including bread,” said Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin this week about its domestic wheat supply. “Russian grain is in good demand from abroad, and its price is increasing. That said, it is necessary to provide the necessary raw materials, first of all, to the domestic baking industry.”
The Prime Minister made this comment with specific reference to the hyper reaction of global wheat prices to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the immediate impacts of the widespread economic sanctions levied on Russia in response. Yet it spotlights the core tenants of Russia’s protectionist and heavy-handed wheat supply and price control policies. Russian intervention has been front and center since the country first entered the global wheat export trade.
Anyone who does not take the Prime Minister at his word on this sets themselves up for a very disappointing and expensive lesson. Defending Russian domestic supplies and keeping domestic prices low by withholding supplies from the world will always be their primary wheat policy weapon. And they deploy it without regard for the harm and expense it creates for anyone.
Underscoring this point, the Russian Ministry of Economy confirmed on Mar. 11, 2022, that they are banning wheat exports through Aug. 31, 2022, to their fellow Eurasian Economic Union member states, including its Ukraine invasion staging partner Belarus, along with Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
In six documented situations since 2007, when the global wheat market showed any sign of stress, the government of Russia stepped in to impose an export ban, export tax or export quota to isolate their home market. These actions intentionally limited world wheat importers’ access to Russian wheat supplies. This Russian intervention further magnified any supply shortage and accelerated the rise in wheat prices.
Twice in this time frame, Russian military aggression against Ukraine directly caused world wheat prices to spike sharply. The world is reeling viscerally and economically from the shock of that situation right now.