Egypt to boost wheat imports to avert political unrest

Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat buyer, plans to boost imports this year to build domestic stockpiles and prevent future political unrests fueled by high food prices, the nation’s Agricultural Export Council said.

Overseas purchases may rise to 10.5 million metric tons in the year starting 1 July from 9.8 million tons a year earlier, Hisham El Attal, board member of the council, said in an interview in Singapore today.

El Attal’s import forecast is higher than the 10 million tons estimated by the US Department of Agriculture on 12 September and may help limit a 14 percent slide in wheat futures this year. December-delivery wheat gained 0.9 percent to US$6.7925 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade at 5:41 p.m. Singapore time.

Egypt will take advantage of the slump in prices to rebuild stockpiles and enable the government to immediately supply the market in case of any unrest, he said.

Protests toppled leaders in north African nations of Egypt and Tunisia while riots erupted from Bahrain to Morocco this year, in part because of high food prices.

Food-price inflation concerns for policy makers are set to persist even as rice declines and wheat trades below this year’s peak, according to the United Nations, which said that importers are still paying more than a year ago.

Another year of bumper wheat and rice harvests, as well as a continued surplus in corn, is needed to bring stockpiles back to “healthy” levels and reduce inflation concerns, Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the UN Food & Agriculture Organization, said in an interview in Singapore today.

China, the largest consumer, may also boost purchases of wheat to 1.5 million tons in 2011-2012, from 1.3 million tons a year earlier, as millers seek high-grade variety to blend with local supply, Haiguang Shi, vice president of the Canadian Wheat Board, said at a conference in Singapore today.

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