Flour exports to set another record

by World Grain Staff
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Even as prospects for global export trade in wheat and flour combined in the 2009-10 season pointed to a drop of 11.6% from the prior season, shipments of wheat flour alone were projected to set a new record for the third year in a row.

According to the latest forecast of the International Grains Council (IGC), for the crop year ending this June, world trade in wheat flour, including durum semolina, will rise 3% to a new peak of 12,850,000 tonnes of wheat equivalent. Global flour trade first surpassed 12 million tonnes in 2007-08, with a total of 12,037,000 tonnes. The global volume reached 12,480,000 tonnes in 2008-09.

Three years of new records in world flour trade reflected a dramatic change from the final decades of the 20th century when global flour exports showed little variation from crop year to crop year. Particularly impressive was the flour export record was being set in 2009-10 when combined shipments of wheat and wheat flour were projected to drop to 120.2 million tonnes from the peak of 136 million established in 2008-09. The record prior to this was 114 million tonnes shipped in 1987-88.

The record run in global flour exports actually began at the mid-point of the first decade of the 21st century. Flour shipments reaching a record of 11,168,000 tonnes in 2005-06 marked a turning point in global trade.

The current aggregate of wheat flour exports, equal to 206 million cwts in terms of wheat flour, was more than double the recent shipment low in 1985-86. In that year, the flour trade volume dipped to 5,861,000 tonnes.

In its compilations of flour exports and imports, the IGC excludes durum semolina from data for individual countries. Thus, the Council placed flour exports in 2009-10 at 12.6 million tonnes, to which 250,000 of durum semolina shipments are added, to arrive at the aggregate of 12,850,000. In 2008-09, flour exports were 12,230,000 tonnes and durum semolina 250,000 to produce the total of 12,480,000.

Just as impressive as the new global record in flour exporting was the "new" exporting countries that have arisen to prominence in the first decade of this century. Standing out in this regard was Kazakhstan, which has ranked as the leading flour exporter for four straight years, beginning in 2006-07. Kazakhstan, a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States that became a separate nation with the break-up of the Former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, first was shown in IGC flour data in 2002-03 with clearances of 642,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent. For the current 2009-10 season, that country was forecast to ship 3 million tonnes of wheat flour (nearly 50 million cwts), up 250,000 from the forecast previously made in October. Its shipments were up 10% from 2,733,000 in 2008-09 and were 46% more than its outgo of 2,054,000 in 2007-08.

In line with its rising shipments, Kazakhstan’s share of global flour trade has been on an uptrend, reaching 23.8% in 2009-10, against 22.3% in 2008-09 and 17.3% in 2007-08.

Ranking second as an exporter in this record-setting year was Turkey, with shipments currently forecast at 2.3 million tonnes, or 18.3% of world trade. The Turkey forecast represented an increase of 6% over shipments of 2,165,000 tonnes in 2008-09. This year’s volume would be the largest for Turkey since 2005-06 when its shipments reached 2,469,000, making it the largest flour exporter that year. This was also the record in Turkey’s clearances.

In third place as flour exporter in 2009-10 was the European Union, with its clearances likely to be nearly the same as the prior year. The IGC projected E.U. wheat flour exports in 2009-10 at 1.4 million tonnes of wheat equivalent, accounting for 11.1% of world trade. The low point in E.U. exporting came in 2007-08 when its shipments dropped to 1,227,000 tonnes, just 10.4% of global trade that year. As recently as 1996-97, E.U. flour exports aggregated 6,219,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent, which represented 56% of global flour shipments that season.

The only other shipper of more than 1 million tonnes of wheat flour in 2009-10 was expected to be Argentina, with its outgo forecast at 1.1 million tonnes. That compared with 1,340,000 tonnes in the past season and the high of 1,528,000 cleared in 2007-08 when Brazil greatly increased its takings.

After these four leaders, the United Arab Emirates was forecast to move 650,000 tonnes, the same flour total as in 2008-09. Following were Russia and Pakistan, forecast to ship 600,000 tonnes each. In the prior year, Russia shipped 665,000 tonnes and Pakistan 500,000.

China followed these countries, with forecast shipments of 350,000 tonnes, up 64% from 214,000 in 2007-08. China’s flour exports reached 842,000 in 2007-08 when it moved especially large quantities to North Korea.

This left the United States and Ukraine at the bottom of the list of exporters, with each forecast to ship 300,000 tonnes of wheat flour. In the prior year, the U.S. moved 295,000 tonnes and the Ukraine 310,000. At the middle of the 20th century, the United States was the world’s leading exporter of flour.


Destinations for global flour exports reflected the pattern of shippers. The Commonwealth of Independent States accounted for imports of 2,550,000 tonnes, including 1.34 million moving to Uzbekistan and 650,000 to Tajikistan. It was apparent that Kazakhstan’s leadership as an exporter reflected the demands of its neighbors in the CIS.

Another important force in global flour trade was military conflict, as revealed in the importance of both Afghanistan and Iraq as flour buyers. Afghanistan retained its position as the leading global flour importer, projected to take 1.6 million tonnes in 2009-10, an increase of 13% from 1,410,000 in the previous crop season. Ever since the beginning of war, Iraq has been a large buyer of flour on world markets. Its takings in 2009-10 actually were forecast to increase, reaching 1 million tonnes, against 900,000 in 2008-09 and the recent low of 602,000 in 2007-08. The high mark in Iraq flour imports was 1,490,000 tonnes in 2005-06.

Flour trade with what might be termed the more traditional and longstanding flour importers posted small changes from the prior year, including a number of decreases. Libya, which for many years was the world’s leading flour importer, was forecast to account for 800,000 tonnes, the same as in 2008-09 and well below 1,060,000 in 2007-08.

Indonesia also was expected to import 800,000 tonnes of wheat flour in 2009-10, the same as last year and in line with several prior seasons.

On a broad geographic basis, Far East Asia was forecast to register the major increase in wheat flour imports in 2009-10. The area’s takings were projected at 3,780,000 tonnes, up 10% from 3,432,000 in 2008-09. The region’s takings projected for 2009-10 were its largest ever and were more than double 1,856,000 in 2000-01.

In contrast, flour imports into the African continent have been on a downward course, mainly due to expansion of domestic milling in parts of North Africa that once were substantial importers. Total African imports in 2009-10 were forecast to reach 2,090,000 tonnes, off 2% from 2,140,000 in 2008-09. Africa accounted for flour imports totaling 3,079,000 tonnes in 2002-03, while its recent peak takings were 3,944,000 in 1996-97.

Thanks to Iraq, the Near East has maintained its position, with imports of 1.6 million tonnes in 2009-10, compared with 1,643,000 in the prior season.

North and Central America combined were projected to import 760,000 tonnes this season, against 722,000 in 2008-09. The region’s largest flour importer was the United States, at 235,000 tonnes, followed by Cuba at 200,000 and Canada at 180,000.