Indian government in talks to expand wheat export destinations

21 Mar 2022 | Masha Belikova

The Indian government is in final talks to start the export of wheat to Egypt and other big wheat buyers such as China, Turkey and Iran, as well as smaller ones such as Israel and South Africa, according to local media, referring to the commerce ministry over the weekend.

Indian wheat has already enjoyed significant demand in the 2021/22 marketing year, due to its relatively cheap price.

But this has increased in recent weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, blocking exports from the country, while Russia itself appears to be isolated amid sanctions and high risks.

“It's not clear if it's going to be G2G or private business facilitation,” a local trader said.

“I feel India will have plenty of demand even without Egypt/Iran, if and when Egypt/Iran happens, that'll be on top of it,” a second trader said.

So far, since the start of the local marketing year in April 2021 and up until January 2022 India has already exported 6.3 million mt of wheat, which is five times more than it exported during the same period a year ago.

The biggest buyers of Indian wheat were neighboring countries, with Bangladesh's imports equivalent to 57% of the amount (3.6 million mt) followed by Sri Lanka (480,944 mt) and UAE (427,019 mt).

Given the fact that these countries will continue to buy Indian wheat as it is the cheapest and easiest from a logistical point of view compared to other origins, as well as the fact that Asian buyers that usually avoid Indian wheat for quality reasons are now willing to take it, the amount available for new destinations is limited.

The current trade sources' estimate for wheat export in the 2022/23 marketing year, starting in April, is limited to 10 million mt for various reasons, while the production estimate is in a range of 100 to 111 million mt, with the highest level expected by the government.

The export talks also come as current export prices are much higher compared to the local minimum support prices released by the Indian government at around $5.44/mt to INR2,015/mt (equivalent to around $265/mt) starting from April.

“Inflation here is also a big issue let us say; even if logistics are sorted out the government won't let cargo move freely," a third trader said.

"It's a time to procure the wheat also by the government for public distribution so if their procurement is hurt, which is most likely as prices range here much more than GVT minimum support price, we may expect the government to take action.” 

“So in all scenarios, the export will not cross 10 million, which is very high for a country like India, where wheat is an essential commodity,” he added.

Trade sources also said that logistics could hamper higher exports, as India is a relatively new wheat exporter and current capacity is not enough.

“[There is] limited capacity to store the grains at ports, mostly all wheat exports shall happen from West Coast," another trader said.

"The East coast is always full of rice exports. Secondly movement through rail cars and trucks will also be limited.” 

So far the highest monthly amount that India has loaded is 975,601 mt in January 2022, meaning that even at times of high demand the export did not exceed 1 million mt per month.