Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

Tired of waiting for a company’s service department to pick up the phone? Frustrated with being refused the right to speak with a human being? Well, so are billions of people in other countries and the Spanish government is planning to do something about it – in Spain at least. It has introduced a bill in the Cortez (the Spanish parliament) to limit telephone wait times to three minutes. It will also force companies to have actual human beings answering the phone rather than machines. The proposed new law would apply to every company with more than 250 employees. The minimum fine would be $10,000 and $100,000 for a repeat offender.  Consumption Minister Alberto Garzon said: “Too many companies create bureaucratic labyrinths to stop you from exercising your right to service.”

Colombia – centre of the world’s cocaine production – is in the final stages of an historic presidential election campaign and the result could have a dramatic impact on the world drugs trade. The man most likely to win is former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro. One of the main planks in his campaign is to stop the US-supported spraying of the coca crops; redistribute land to the peasants; legalise marijuana and encourage farmers to replace coca with marijuana plants. He also wants to stop the extradition of Colombian drug lords to the US. His opponent Rodolfo Hernandez is at the opposite end of the political spectrum and wants, if anything, to step up the war on drugs. Colombian voters will decide on June 19th.

Wanted: Volunteer amateur spies to help Ukraine. But hurry, Vacancies are being quickly filled for this unadvertised and unpaid position. They are springing up because companies around the world are trying to circumvent sanctions and employees and keen-eyed members of the public are angry that they are doing so. The Russians, of course, are doing everything they can to help the sanctions-busters. But the army of whistleblowers is growing. Ukraine is helping them with an organisation called Russian Tanker Tracking Group which serves as a clearing house for tips on sanctions busting involving Russian oil shipments. “We are being inundated with information,” said a representative. Tanker Tracker sell their information to banks and insurance companies who sever the shipping companies finance and insurance. Mission accomplished.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

Read more by or more about , , , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Brad Barrows 12th Jun '22 - 12:21pm

    Pre-war, Russia exported around three times as much grain than Ukraine. So if there are world grain shortages, is this mainly due to the logistical issues in Ukraine caused by the war or to international sanctions against Russia? If the latter, any starvation caused in the world due to grain shortages is the direct consequence of the political decision of countries seeking to punish Russia for its actions.

  • Joseph Bourke 12th Jun '22 - 1:29pm

    There was a developing world food crisis even before the Invasion of Ukraine. U.N. food chief David Beasley warned “We are already seeing riots and protesting taking place as we speak — Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru,” he said. “We’ve seen destabilizing dynamics already in the Sahel from Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad. These are only signs of things to come.”
    Food and fertilisers are exempt from the sanctions on Russia. The bottlenecks appear to arise from shipping issues i.e. inability to get insurance for merchant ships entering the black sea, Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s black sea ports and Ukraine’s mining of the sea roads around Odessa.
    To get grain exported from Ukraine requires the opening of a sea lane from Odessa through which container ships can be escorted (most likely by Turkish warships). However, Russia needs to agree to these arrangements and appears unlikely to do so while it remains under sanctions from Western governments.
    The only other alternative is to run the naval blockade. I can’t see the USA or too many other Nato countries getting involved in such a confrontation. If it was to be done, the naval escorts would probably have to be provided by the British and French navies and would need the support of Turkey to allow passage through the bosphorous i.e. someting that may look like a repeat of the Crimean war in the Black sea.British Navy warships could be sent to protect freighters carrying Ukrainian grain A hazardous venture for all concerned and a propaganda gift to the Putin regime UK’s Nato envoy warns Royal Navy may have to battle Russia

  • Joseph Bourke 12th Jun ’22 – 1:29pm:
    U.N. food chief David Beasley warned “We are already seeing riots and protesting taking place as we speak — Sri Lanka,…

    In Sri Lanka, food shortages and economic collapse were self-inflicted…

    ‘In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong’ [March 2022]:

    Faced with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis, Sri Lanka called off an ill-conceived national experiment in organic agriculture this winter. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised in his 2019 election campaign to transition the country’s farmers to organic agriculture over a period of 10 years. Last April, Rajapaksa’s government made good on that promise, imposing a nationwide ban on the importation and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and ordering the country’s 2 million farmers to go organic.

    The result was brutal and swift. Against claims that organic methods can produce comparable yields to conventional farming, domestic rice production fell 20 percent in just the first six months. Sri Lanka, long self-sufficient in rice production, has been forced to import $450 million worth of rice even as domestic prices for this staple of the national diet surged by around 50 percent. The ban also devastated the nation’s tea crop, its primary export and source of foreign exchange.

  • Peter Hirst 14th Jun '22 - 2:10pm

    At best China is taking advantage of the Ukraine crisis to further its interests. Similarly climate change presents plenty of opportunities for those countries that put other things first. Part of the solution must be more dialogue and strengthening global institutions.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Mark Frankel
    This strikes me as a bit overblown. The American civil war killed 600,000. What will be the death toll under a new Trump presidency?...
  • Martin Gray
    Centrist governments support the rules of international order. Sadly , when it comes to the Palestine those rules , those values , have all but been abandoned...
  • Peter Hirst
    For all its faults, America remains a democracy and we must retain our links. Brexit allows us to show flexibility in our strategic relations. We must now allow...
  • David Raw
    As a long time student of political history who first joined (and was employed by) the Liberal Party way back in 1962, I've come to believe that the basic quali...
  • Peter Hirst
    Putting country before party seems to me to be quite apposite in the context of the last decade. The Party system is a weakness of our present structures. It is...