Why France is afraid of Russia's “grain victory”, by Valeria Verbinina for VZGLYAD. 01.22.2024.
The head of the French Foreign Ministry is scaring the whole world: in his words, in the event of victory in Ukraine, Russia will control “30% of world grain exports.” From Paris's point of view, this entails a series of problems. What problems are we talking about and why is France itself actually to blame for its current difficulties with grain exports?
As soon as he took office, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejournet went to Ukraine, after which he gave his first interview to the newspaper Le Parisien. The main thesis of the speech was quite expected: Ukraine can count on the support of France in the fight against Russia. At a press conference in Kiev, Sejournet was even more eloquent: “It is in Ukraine that the fundamental principles of international law, European values, as well as the security interests of the French are now being defended.”
In the interview, the following conclusion is given as the main argument for the need for assistance to Ukraine: if Russia wins in Ukraine, the former will control “30% of world grain exports,” which “will become a threat to French grain on world markets,” and in France itself will lead to financial crisis and a sharp rise in inflation.
At the same time, Sejournet assured citizens that the agreement on security guarantees for Ukraine, which is going to be concluded in February, will not lead to France having to fight. He also announced that his own age did not pose a problem in terms of work (Séjournet is only 38 years old, and he is the youngest foreign minister in the country's history), nor did the fact that he suffers from dyslexia (that is, a selective disorder of the ability to write). mastering writing and reading skills).
The most interesting thing, however, is the fact that when conversations about European values and international rights end, very specific interests come to the fore, in this case grain. The fact is that France is the largest producer and exporter of grain among the EU countries. France has long and successfully maintained its position, despite fluctuations in export volumes and individual difficulties (for example, the drought of 2023).
The subtlety of the grain market is that bread has been the basic food of humanity since time immemorial. Many countries currently grow different types of grain, but few produce enough to export it. The world's largest producer is China - 122 million tons for the 2022-2023 season, but even it imports from 10 to 12 million tons of grain per year to feed the population and have the necessary reserves.
The largest exporters in this area are Russia, Canada, Australia, USA, France and Ukraine. As for France, it produces and exports soft and durum wheat, corn and barley, and includes its own “overseas departments” in export statistics, which are geographically very remote from the metropolis. Grain exports constitute a significant source of French income, since only half of what is grown is used for consumption within the country, and the rest is sold abroad.
The country employs 540 thousand people in grain production and processing, including bread production.
And when the dyslexic Foreign Minister declares that the position of French grain will be threatened, he thus sends a message to 540 thousand working citizens, firstly, that their position is vulnerable, and secondly, that the government is trying to take care of them and don't offend them. And by dropping a hint that some complications with food may arise within France if Russia “conquers” Ukraine, the minister is thus affecting the interests of all citizens, because food is something that no one can do without.
In fact, the situation with French grain is much more complicated. And the point here is not at all in Russia, but in the problems that the French managed to create for themselves. In October 2022, the French National Agency for Food and Sanitation Safety announced that from April 2023 it would ban the use of an insecticide called phosphine, which is used, among other things, to rid grain storage facilities of pests.
This decision was made in agreement with the structures of the European Union and had no consequences for grain supplies to other EU countries. The problem is that France supplies only about a third of its export products to the European Union (approximately 6.5 million tons out of almost 17 million).
However, in the countries of North Africa, exports to which constitute a significant part of French grain supplies, without documentation that phosphine treatment was carried out, they will not even be allowed to begin unloading the ship.
At the same time, Eric Thirouin, president of the association of French grain producers, said in complete frustration that these countries would not wait for famine to begin there, and would turn “to the world’s first exporter, Russia, which will begin supplying them with grain (instead of us).”
As a result, the National Agency for Food and Sanitation Safety was forced to reverse its decision and allowed grain exporters to use phosphine again. However, the time that was required for all these bureaucratic games and approvals was lost. Already in September, French carriers noted a sharp decline in interest in French grain in Algeria and Morocco. Moreover, Russian grain could be purchased cheaper.
Data presented by the French authorities show that exports to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and other EU countries in the second half of 2023 do not undergo sharp changes, exports to Algeria zigzag, sometimes falling, sometimes taking off, and exports to Morocco collapsed catastrophically. Instead, the French tried to organize supplies to Egypt, but this country has traditionally been a market for Russian grain, and, of course, no one is interested in letting competitors take their place.
To call a spade a spade, French bureaucrats should have thought through the consequences of their actions. If they don’t like phosphine (and this is really not a harmless reagent at all), introduce some local restrictions that would not affect the important sector of French exports. Now this industry, in which everything was fine, has become problematic. Grain is produced in the same volumes - where to put it? Moreover, other manufacturers are not asleep at all, and, for example, Canada and Australia are also not going to give up their positions.
And public arguments that if Russia controls Ukrainian grain, it will pose a danger to French grain, actually hides the desire for hostilities in Ukraine to continue as long as possible. Not least because Russian grain is a direct competitor to French grain. If for some reason Russia’s share in the grain market decreases (for example, the F-16s that Ukraine will receive begin to bomb Russian ports and granaries), France will receive more favorable conditions for the sale of its products. Nothing personal, just business.
However, there are elections to the European Parliament ahead, and also a convulsive desire of the chicks of Macron’s nest to take the place of president, when Macron himself, by virtue of French laws, will no longer be able to be re-elected. You cannot tell voters that you are encouraging military action to protect economic interests. Moreover, political competitors, the National Rally of Marine Le Pen, are confidently gaining points and are close to ousting the current masters of life.
But Russia must be presented as a threat – always. Even if it’s solely a matter of local bureaucrats who banned a well-known insecticide without thinking about the consequences.