The deal comes after two months of talks brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, Polish state news agency PAP reported.
According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the agreement paves the way for a significant volume of commercial food exports to be launched from three key Ukrainian seaports: Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
The UN, which is also a signatory to the deal along with Turkey, said it would establish a coordination centre to monitor the implementation of Friday’s accord.
Guterres told the gathering in Istanbul, Turkey: "Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope..., possibility ... and relief in a world that needs it more than ever."
However, in a reminder that Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine continued to rage, Russian and Ukrainian delegates declined to sit at the same table, and the display of the two countries' flags at the ceremony was adjusted so that they were no longer next to each other, the Reuters news agency reported.
Friday’s deal will be valid for 120 days, but is renewable, officials said.
The signing ceremony took place in Istanbul, featuring Ukraine's and Russia’s defence and infrastructure ministers, as well as Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Ukraine’s harvest to be brought to the world
Russia’s naval blockade of Ukrainian ports had trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain in silos and stranded many ships, aggravating global supply chain problems and, together with Western sanctions, fuelling inflation in food and energy prices worldwide.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the deepening food crisis. Instead, it has blamed Western sanctions for slowing Russian food and fertiliser exports, and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its Black Sea ports.
Friday’s UN-led deal opens the way for Ukraine’s harvest to be brought to the world, according to officials.
The overall objective is to help avert famine among tens of millions of people in poorer nations by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertiliser and other products into world markets, including for humanitarian needs, Reuters reported.
"The fact that two parties at war - and still very much at war - have been able to negotiate an agreement of this kind ... I think that's unprecedented," a UN official said, as cited by Reuters.
Another UN delegate stated that “a separate pact signed on Friday will smooth Russian food and fertiliser exports,” adding that the UN welcomed “U.S. and European Union clarifications that their sanctions would not apply to such shipments.”
Meanwhile, Andrii Sybiha, a senior aide and foreign policy advisor to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted: "Istanbul. The Initiative to unblock the Ukrainian ports has been approved! This will allow to establish a humanitarian corridor to export grain.”
He added: “An important step to avoid the global food crisis. Appreciate the active position of UN and Turkey in settlement of the ‘grain issue.’”
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “The US will work to hold Russia accountable for implementing the UN-led deal to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports.”
Washington is also urging China to “stop stockpiling grain” and offer more “to meet global humanitarian aid needs,” James O’Brien, head of the US State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination, told reporters.
Meanwhile, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, an agriculture adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said that Friday’s agreement represented “a breakthrough” for global food security, the PAP news agency reported.
Friday was day 149 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Source: PAP, Reuters, bbc.com