Leading EU member states are calling on Brussels to adjust its sanctions on Moscow to make a clearer exception for shipments of Russian grain and fertilizers, arguing that current rules are delaying vital supplies to poor countries.
Germany, France and the Netherlands are among countries calling on the European Commission to introduce an amendment clarifying sanctions on food exports from Russia, according to a document seen by the Financial Times.
African countries struggling with food and agricultural shortages have spoken out against EU sanctions. Macky Sall, president of Senegal and chairman of the African Union, said the continent had become "collateral damage" in the crackdown by Western allies on Russia.
Although the commission has given EU countries instructions to allow transit of Russian grain and fertilizers, governments and transport operators say they are not reliable enough to guarantee legal protection.
The current legal situation contributes to criticism that the sanctions actually impede trade in food and fertilizers, the paper says of a group of member states that also includes Spain, Belgium and Portugal.
The paper claims that cargoes are sometimes delayed at European ports longer than necessary because companies are wary of engaging in deals with Russian companies owned by sanctioned individuals.
Financial institutions, insurers, carriers and wholesalers have been reluctant to participate in commercial deals to export Russian food and fertilizers, disrupting supply chains, the document said.
An "undesirable" situation has emerged in which the EU is more stringent on agricultural deals than the U.S. and Britain. This seems contrary to the EU's overall policy on food security, the document said.
The Commission insisted that none of its sanctions targeted trade in agricultural and food products, including wheat and fertilizer.
An EC spokesman pointed to guidance explaining that the transit and transfer of Russian fertilizer to non-EU countries was allowed, adding that the guidance helped unblock several individual fertilizer shipments that were temporarily stuck at ports in member countries. If third countries want to buy Russian fertilizers, there are no EU sanctions that would prohibit it - in fact, Russian fertilizer exports to third countries have not decreased, the interlocutor said.
The African Union has complained since May that the EU is blocking shipments, making some countries on the continent sympathetic to Russia's diplomatic flirtations.
Of the 35 countries that abstained in an October U.N. vote condemning Russia's annexation of Ukraine's territories, about half were African.
The UN World Food Program said that 345 million people face severe food shortages in 82 countries where the agency operates. The war in Ukraine has added 70 million people to that number.
The African Development Bank said the continent is short 2 million tons of fertilizer ahead of the planting season. Because of food supply disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, corn and soybeans imported from both countries.
The EU is preparing to discuss a ninth package of sanctions against Russia. Some member states want to use it as an opportunity to introduce amendments concerning food products and fertilizers.