Middle East and North Africa wheat imports remain strong despite high prices

17 November 20213 min reading

The Middle East and North Africa are projected to be the largest wheat importing regions in 2021/22, with the world’s top importers Egypt and Turkey leading the way. Wheat consumption has steadily expanded in the Middle East and North Africa, mostly due to population growth, outpacing domestic production. Therefore, despite global wheat prices climbing to extremely high levels, importers in these regions are continuing to purchase wheat from international markets.

Egypt is forecast to import 13.0 million tons in 2021/22. State buyer GASC, the largest importer, has purchased 3.0 million tons through international tenders so far this trade year. While GASC had sporadic tenders in the early part of the year and even canceled some due to high prices, there was an uptick in tenders over the past month. While tender volume is down 15 percent from the same period last year, continued tenders and private sector purchases are expected to result in record imports. GASC typically buys wheat from Russia; however, Russia’s tight supply and export tax have limited 2021/22 exports, prompting GASC to purchase lower-priced wheat from Ukraine and Romania. So far this year, GASC has purchased 20 times more Romanian wheat compared to the same period last year. Purchases from Ukraine are up 58 percent compared to last year, while purchases from Russia are down 68 percent.

Turkey, meanwhile, is forecast to import 11.0 million tons in 2021/22, up 37 percent from the previous trade year due to its smaller domestic crop and additional feed and FSI demand. Turkey’s state buyer TMO has actively tendered for international wheat this year to satisfy expanding demand. Purchases are up slightly compared to the same period last year, although the average purchase price is $39/ton higher. Compared to 2018/19, however, purchases are up nearly seven-fold reflecting Turkey’s significantly larger role in global imports. In recent years, TMO has been buying international wheat to temper high domestic food price inflation.

Algeria imports are forecast up this month to 7.0 million tons as state buyer OAIC continues actively tendering despite climbing prices. Purchases are up 17 percent compared to last year while the average purchase price surged to $369/ton, $122/ton higher than last year. OAIC’s purchase prices are elevated compared to other importers in the region due to their demand for higher-cost durum wheat. Saudi Arabia's imports are also forecasted up this month to 3.0 million tons. Purchases from state buyer SAGO are up 20 percent compared to last year despite a larger domestic crop. The average purchase price is $86/ton higher than last year. Other major importers in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran and Tunisia, also show signs of rising import demand and increased state buying.

Unabated tendering from governments in the Middle East and North Africa indicates strong demand. State buying continues even as international prices escalate, given concerns about domestic food prices. Many of these countries implement consumer subsidies that mitigate the impact of price fluctuations on their populations, often keeping consumer demand insulated from high prices. Globally, sustained imports by the Middle East and North African region have contributed to tightening for major exporter stocks and continued upward pressure to global prices. USDA

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