Flour export projections down

by Morton Sosland
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World flour exports in 2008-09 were forecast by the International Grains Council (IGC) on Jan. 29 at 7% down from the previous year’s record volume, but still at a relatively high level as compared with earlier crop years.

The latest IGC forecast of world flour trade was 10,675,000 tonnes in grain equivalent, down 200,000 from the projection made last September, and compared with the record of 11.5 million in 2007-08. The previous peak was 11,186,000 tonnes in 1996-97.

While below the record shipments, world flour exports in the current season were expected to be well above 9,975,000 tonnes shipped in 2006-07. The outgo in 2005-06 was 10,625,000 tonnes in grain equivalent.

Kazakhstan, which mainly provides flour to other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, continued to rank as the world’s leading flour exporter. Its outgo in 2008-09 was forecast at 1,850,000 tonnes of grain equivalent, down from the two prior seasons when it led with clearances slightly above 2 million tonnes: 2,055,000 in 2007-08 and 2,024,000 in 2006-07. It was in the latter year that Kazakhstan surpassed both the European Union (E.U.) and Turkey to become the premier flour-exporting nation.

The E.U. inched back into second place with its flour exports in 2008-09 projected at 1,350,000 tonnes of grain equivalent, against 1,230,000 in the prior year. This gain of 10% brings to a close a period in which E.U. flour shipments fell from the prior year. The bloc’s peak in flour shipments was 6,249,000 tonnes in 1996-97, and the outgo has fallen in each subsequent year until 2008-09. Currently, the E.U. accounts for 13% of global flour exports, contrasted with 56% at its peak. Turkey was holding to third place in global flour exporting, with shipments of 1.3 million tonnes projected for 2008-09, against 1,130,000 tonnes in 2007-08 and the recent peak of 2,250,000 in 2005-06.

The only other country expected to ship more than 1 million tonnes of wheat flour in grain equivalent in 2008-09 was Argentina, with the outgo forecast at 1.2 million tonnes, down 21% from shipments of 1,520,000 in 2007-08. This reduction largely reflected the cutback in Brazilian flour imports, to 850,000 tonnes in 2008-09, against 1,075,000 in the preceding season.


Indeed, no flour importing country in 2008-09 was projected to import as much as 1 million tonnes. Brazil’s expected takings ranked it among the largest importers. Libya, at 900,000 tonnes, against 1,040,000 in the prior year, was another leader as a flour importer. Also forecast to take 900,000 tonnes in 2008-09 was Uzbekistan, closely followed by neighboring Tajikistan at 800,000.

Afghanistan appeared to be replacing Iraq as the leading destination in that war-torn part of the world. Afghanistan was projected to import 800,000 tonnes of wheat flour in grain equivalent, compared with 915,000 in the prior season. Iraq’s flour imports were projected to fall to 500,000 tonnes, against 600,000 in the prior year. In 2005-06, Iraq flour imports peaked at 1,484,000 tonnes. The IGC noted that flour imports were being replaced by a pickup in takings of milling wheat.

Indeed, the IGC said, "Demand for imported wheat flour has been reduced by increasing milling wheat supplies and by the removal of temporary border measures by several wheat exporters, which had boosted flour purchases in 2007-08."

One of the major changes in the latest IGC flour export projections was a cut in expected China shipments, to 400,000 tonnes, against 850,000 previously estimated. The latter would have been in line with the previous year’s shipments. The Grains Council said China’s flour exports were still restricted by a quota.

The United States continued near the bottom of global flour exporters in 2008-09, with projected shipments of 450,000 tonnes in grain equivalent, against 455,000 in the prior season and the recent low of 312,000 in 2005-06.

Besides the leaders, other countries forecast to ship more flour than the U.S., in 2008-09 were: Pakistan, 500,000; Russia, 550,000; and United Arab Emirates, 500,000.