Global flour trade expands

by Teresa Acklin
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World shipments in 1996-97 expected to increase sharply as E.U. flour export sales reach record.

   Describing world export flour trade as “unexpectedly strong,” the International Grains Council recently projected global flour shipments in the 1996-97 crop season at 9 million tonnes, wheat equivalent, up 6% from the 1995-96 total of 8.5 million and exceeded only by the peak of 9,707,000 in 1994-95.

   The I.G.C. report cited the central role of the European Union in the expansion of 1996-97 flour exports. It noted that as of April 29, E.U. licenses for flour exports in the current crop season were at a record 5.7 million tonnes, wheat equivalent, contrasted with 3.7 million in the same period of 1995-96.

   For the entire 1996-97 season, the Council forecast E.U. flour exports would hold at the April 29 license total of 5.7 million tonnes, up 24% from the 1995-96 E.U. export figure of 4,591,000. The previous record for E.U. flour exports was 5,033,000 tonnes in the 1993-94 crop year.

   In contrast to the strong increase in E.U. exports, the I.G.C. projected U.S. flour exports in 1996-97 down to only 600,000 tonnes, wheat equivalent, compared with 790,000 shipped in 1995-96 and the recent U.S. high of 1,651,000 tonnes in 1994-95. Turkey's 1996-97 flour exports also were projected to decline to 600,000 tonnes from 871,000 the previous season.

   Based on the I.G.C. estimates, the E.U. will account for 63% of global flour exports, compared with 54% in the previous season and 51% in 1994-95. In 1993-94, E.U. flour shipments represented 60% of the global total.

   Prospective U.S. flour exports in 1996-97 will represent less than 7% of global trade, compared with 9% in 1995-96 and 17% 1994-95. The U.S. share of global flour exports was at a recent high of 21% in 1989-90. During the 1960s and earlier, U.S. flour shipments led the world total and were substantially larger than the outgo from Europe.

   Indeed, at the indicated 600,000 tonnes for 1996-97, U.S. flour exports would be the same as projected shipments from Turkey and Japan. Actually, in 1995-96, exports from Turkey, at 871,000 tonnes, ranked second to the E.U.'s outgo and exceeded U.S. shipments. Even though substantially behind the E.U.'s exports, shipments from the United States up until the two most recent crop seasons held a clear second place.

   At 600,000 tonnes, Japan's prospective exports in 1996-97 will be up 7% from the prior season and represent a continuation of an upward trend under way from the start of the 1990s. Argentine flour exports in 1996-97 were projected at 400,000 tonnes, against 289,000 in the previous season and 453,000 in 1994-95.

   In reviewing developments in world flour trade, the Council noted that the decline in 1995-96 from the previous year's peak reflected reduced imports into all regions, with the principal exception of Russia, which imported more than 500,000 tonnes from third countries as well as some 900,000 tonnes from Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Even though demand from Russia in 1996-97 was expected to drop, purchases were projected strong elsewhere, particularly among several countries bordering the Mediterranean. The Council noted that Algeria, which last year imported a record 1 million tonnes of wheat flour, was now set to overtake Yemen as the biggest single market for flour.

   The I.G.C. also said that among the E.U. member states, much of the additional flour exports were processed in Italy and Spain using substantial new milling capacity, some of it previously employed in the manufacture of durum semolina.