World flour exports decrease

by Morton Sosland
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Largely as the result of reduced imports by countries in Africa, the International Grains Council (IGC) has reduced its estimate of global flour trade in 2006-07 to 7% less than in the previous season. The IGC placed prospective world flour trade for the crop season now drawing to a close at 9,975,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent, down 215,000 tonnes from the trade estimate last made in March. That outgo compares with 10,770,000 tonnes in 2005-06 and 10,150,000 in 2004-05. It would be the smallest global outgo since world trade fell to 8,666,000 tonnes in 2003-04.

World flour exports reached a record of 11,196,000 tonnes in 1996-97.

The IGC estimates do not include durum semolina, which is reported separately. With current semolina trade at 300,000 tonnes, the aggregate of wheat flour trade in 2006-07 was 10,175,000 tonnes, compared with 11,070,000 in 2005-06.

In noting the reduction from the March forecast, the IGC said it was due to "a slower-than-expected pace of imports by North and Sub-Saharan Africa." Libya, which has been a leading flour importer, slashed its taking in 2006-07 to 950,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent, down 200,000 from the prior forecast and also down by the same amount from 2005-06 imports.

"Libya’s imports from the European Union (E.U.) and Turkey have decreased sharply in 2006-07 and, with good wheat supplies in other parts of North Africa, some of the strong domestic demand is likely to have been met through unreported regional purchases," the Council said.

Sub-Saharan Africa purchases from the E.U. were reduced, accounting for a drop of 8% in its takings to 1,335,000 tonnes.

In 2003-04, Sub-Saharan Africa took 1,503,000 tonnes of flour in wheat equivalent.

Improved domestic availabilities were credited with cutting flour imports by Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The IGC said the pace of imports by Iraq has been relatively sluggish compared with recent years. Its takings for 2006-07 were estimated at 800,000 tonnes, contrasted with 1.5 million in the previous crop year.

The only major area where flour trade increased from March was the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Its import estimate for 2006-07 was raised to 1.8 million tonnes from 1,575,000 in March. This volume was up 20% from 1,505,000 in 2005-06.

The FSU, or Commonwealth of Independent States, has seen a strong demand for flour being shipped by Kazakhstan, primarily to neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. An increase in shipments to Afghanistan also was in prospect.

As a result, Kazakhstan was on course to export 2 million tonnes of flour in wheat equivalent in 2006-07, up 52% from 1,315,000 in 2005-06. This means that Kazakhstan will be the leading exporter of wheat flour in 2006-07, and the IGC said, "Growing regional demand has boosted exports in recent years, while efforts to improve logistics have succeeded in reducing transport costs, which had been very high."

With the sharp expansion in exports by Kazakhstan, the E.U. has been relegated once more to second place as a flour exporter. The E.U. shipments in 2006-07 were estimated by the IGC at 1,650,000 tonnes, down 23% from the outgo of 2,135,000 in 2005-06. E.U. exports have been on a consistent downward course for many years, and its current outgo contrasts with its peak of 6,249,000 tonnes in 1996-97.

In third place in flour exports in 2006-07, based on the latest IGC estimates, was Turkey, forecast to ship 1.1 million tonnes of wheat equivalent, down 51% from the peak of 2,250,000 in 2005-06, when it was the world’s leading exporter of flour. Turkey exported 1,840,000 tonnes in 2004-05.

Argentina moved into fourth place as a flour exporter in 2006-07, with its outgo estimated at 700,000 tonnes, against 640,000 in 2005-06. Tied for fifth place with shipments of 600,000 tonnes each were China and Russia. The United Arab Emirates, with shipments of 500,000 tonnes, followed.

Near the bottom as flour exporter was the United States, with shipments of 300,000 tonnes forecast for 2006-07, the same as in the prior season.