Global flour trade climbs 14% to new peak in ’11-12

by Morton Sosland
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LONDON — Data on world trade in wheat flour just issued by the International Grains Council affirm that global flour exports in 2011-12 attained a new record by a wide margin, but that the outlook for 2012-13 points to a drop of 9%. Primarily responsible for the expected decrease in the new crop year trade was a drop in imports by Uzbekistan, which in turn was largely due to reduced export availabilities from Kazakhstan, its neighboring flour supplier.

According to the I.G.C., global exports of wheat flour in 2011-12 reached 13,550,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent (nearly 225 million cwts of flour). That total was up 850,000 tonnes from the prior I.G.C. estimate for the crop season just ended. At the latest crop year estimate, world flour trade in 2011-12 rose 14% over the previous year and set a new record by a wide margin.

This was the first crop season in which global flour exports exceeded 13 million tonnes of wheat equivalent. Prior to the past season, the record in flour export trade was 12,683,000 in 2009-10. The outgo in 2008-09, at 12,607,000, was nearly the same. Global flour trade first exceeded 11 million tonnes in 1996-97 with the aggregate at 11,186,000. The first crop year with world flour exports above 10 million tonnes was 1995-96, with the total at 10,136,000.

The 9% reduction forecast for the crop year just starting, 2012-13, meant a shipment total of 12,310,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent. That was not far below the earlier record set in the first decade of the 21st century. In terms of cwts of wheat flour, the trade aggregate would be near 200 million.

Uzbekistan as an importer and Kazakhstan and Turkey, as exporters, accounted for most of the increase to a new peak in 2011-12. Uzbekistan maintained its position as the world’s largest importer of wheat flour, taking an estimated 1.9 million tonnes of wheat equivalent in 2011-12. That was 400,000 tonnes above the prior estimate. This member of the Commonwealth of Independent States boosted its imports by 34% in 2011-12. For the 2012-13 season, the I.G.C. forecast that Uzbekistan’s imports of flour will fall to 1.5 million tonnes.

The second-ranking flour importer in 2011-12 was Iraq, which took 1.4 million tonnes of wheat equivalent, contrasted with 989,000 in 2010-11, an increase of 42%.

The only other nation importing more than 1 million tonnes in 2011-12 was Afghanistan, with its total at 1.1 million, down from 1,327,000 in 2010-11. The I.G.C. forecast was that Afghanistan’s takings will be unchanged in 2012-13 from the previous season.

Kazakhstan solidified its position as the world’s leading exporter of wheat flour in 2011-12. Its outgo in the past year reached 3.5 million tonnes of wheat equivalent (nearly 60 million cwts), against 2,526,000 in 2010-11 and 3,514,000 in 2009-10. It accounted for 26% of global flour exports in 2011-12.

In forecasting shipments in 2012-13, the I.G.C. cut Kazakhstan’s exports to 2.8 million tonnes, which would be a reduction of 20%. This decrease was attributed to the smaller wheat crop produced in Kazakhstan this year. The Council said the decrease “may help to sustain strong demand for supplies from other countries, including Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, although their shipments are forecast to recede slightly from the high levels of the past year.”

Once again in second place was Turkey, which shipped 3,050,000 tonnes of wheat flour in 2011-12, which was a gain of 350,000 over an earlier estimate. At that pace, Turkey’s exports increased 29% over the 2010-11 outgo of 2,356,000. In forecasting flour trade in 2012-123, the I.G.C. placed likely Turkey exports at 2.8 million tonnes, which would be the same as Kazakhstan.

European Union ranked third as a flour exporter in 2011-12, shipping 1.3 million tonnes, against 1,156,000 in 2010-11. Its exports in 2012-13 were forecast to show no change.

Flour exports from Argentina maintained a steady pace, totaling 1.3 million tonnes in 2011-12, nearly the same as in the two prior seasons, and also projected for 2012-13.

The U.A.E. was the only other exporter to approach 1 million tonnes in 2011-12 shipments, its total rising to 950,000 tonnes, nearly double the 500,000 of the previous crop year.

The United States was one of the few countries to experience a flour export decrease in 2011-12, with its outgo at 350,000 tonnes, down 100,000 from an earlier estimate and sharply less than in two prior years. The recent U.S. peak was 545,000 tonnes in 2009-10. U.S. shipments were forecast to rebound to 450,000 tonnes in 2012-13.

In forecasting likely flour imports in the new season, the I.G.C. also cut the prospect for Africa to 2 million tonnes of wheat equivalent, against 2.4 million in the prior season. At the same time, the likely African imports exceeded 1.7 million tonnes in 2010-11. The Council observed that cost advances “may restrict purchases” by some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, although total purchases are still placed slightly above the five-year average of 1.6 million.

Indonesia was projected to rejoin the ranks of million-tonne flour importers in 2012-13. Its takings were forecast at 1.1 million tonnes, against 900,000 in 2011-12. In both 2009-10 and 2010-11, that country imported slightly more than 1 million tonnes.

In its estimates of world trade in wheat flour the I.G.C. does not include trade in durum semolina. For the 2012-13 crop season, separate durum data place likely global semolina exports at 350,000 tonnes in wheat equivalent, against 360,000 in each of the preceding two crop years.

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