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World trade in wheat flour

08 April 20244 min reading

Alexander Karavaytsev
Senior Economist
International Grains Council (IGC)


The projected annual increase in trade is largely tied to an expected rebound in deliveries to sub-Saharan Africa, a major importing region, where demand for attractively-priced supplies from Turkey has been unusually strong this season. Led by increased arrivals to Ethiopia (mainly via Djibouti) and Sudan (which also complements its flour supplies by significant purchases from Egypt), imports by that region are forecast at a five-year high of 2.7 million tons, some 0.7m higher year-on-year. Notably, challenging conditions for the domestic wheat processing industry could see Sudan boost the share of flour imports in its all-wheat purchases to around one-quarter in 2023/24, compared to 13% in the year before and just 1% in 2020/21.

A moderate annual rise in flour imports is also projected for South America, to 1.1 million tons, broadly matching the level of 2021/22. Against the backdrop of increased wheat availabilities in Argentina – a major supplier of wheat flour to South America – Bolivia, Brazil and Chile are likely to be larger importers this year. While data for the first eight months of the July/June trade year shows a year-on-year increase in flour deliveries from Argentina to Brazil and Chile, shipments to Bolivia are yet to accelerate, with imports during the same period trailing last season. Among other net importers in the region, larger deliveries are forecast to Venezuela, which primarily relies on supplies from Turkey. 

Based on reported trade to date, larger flour imports compared to the previous season are also projected for North and Central America. In that region, strong purchases thus far are noted by Cuba, chiefly from Egypt, the EU and Turkey, while Mexico is also expected to source more than last year, almost entirely from the neighbouring US.   

This season’s potentially larger imports by sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas are set to be partly countered by smaller arrivals to other regions, including to the CIS and parts of Asia. In the former region, flour imports by Uzbekistan, mostly originating from Kazakhstan, could be capped by larger local grain availabilities, as well as a further expansion in domestic grain processing capacity. However, the Council’s import forecast for that country may be revised higher, should the current pace of arrivals be sustained in the coming months.

DECREASED WHEAT PURCHASES PROJECTED FOR IRAQ

With local officials signalling ample domestic wheat availabilities, Iraq – the world’s second largest importer of wheat flour – is likely to reduce purchases of wheat grain and flour in 2023/24, with the latter projected at 1.7 million tons, down by 0.4m year-on-year. While Turkey remains the key supplier of flour, arrivals from Russia to that destination are estimated to have surged during the past season.

Elsewhere in Asia, imports by the world’s leading importer Afghanistan are seen little changed y/y, at around 2.4 million tons, primarily originating from Kazakhstan, but with Russia expected to cement its position as a regular supplier to that destination. 

TURKEY’S FLOUR SHIPMENTS REACH NEW HEIGHTS

On the export side, the current season has been marked by particularly strong flour dispatches from Turkey, especially to sub-Saharan Africa. Aided by ample estimated domestic wheat availabilities and reportedly attractive prices, Turkey’s global deliveries of wheat flour in the first seven months of the 2023/24 season (July/June) reached 3.4 million tons, up by one-quarter y/y and the highest in at least fifteen years. The tally includes 1.4 million tons delivered to sub-Saharan Africa, up more than threefold year-on-year. Turkey’s increased exports to that region thus far more than offset lagging dispatches to some other destinations, notably to Syria, Yemen and Sri Lanka, with the country’s shipments in the twelve months to June 2024 pegged at a record 5.9 million tons, 1.0m higher than last season. 

Availabilities in Turkey are termed adequate to counter potentially smaller dispatches by some significant exporters, including Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia, albeit as the forecast for the latter is complicated by the absence of official customs statistics. 


*The IGC continues to monitor global trade flows of wheat flour, with regular updates published in the Council’s Grain Market Reports (GMR). This overview is based on GMR552 released in March 2024.

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