‘Use it or lose it’ ports tell Russian grain exporters as shakeup continues

4 Jul 2019 | Tom Houghton

Some of Russia’s biggest grain export terminals have introduced take or pay schemes for customers to boost export volumes, market sources told Agricensus on Thursday, putting additional pressure on traders as the shakeup of the industry continues into the new marketing year.

Under the new setup, quota holders that do not use their port allocation face stiff penalties that add an extra dimension to the challenges already facing grain traders, potentially complicating matters when origination in the inland market slows or export demand dries up.

“When you sign take or pay you get a reduced rail tariff … If you do 90% of the volume you are good, if not there is $10/mt penalty,” a trader told Agricensus on Thursday.

“They want to boost traffic through the terminal, as traders stock up on grain volumes and sit around waiting for a good price,” a broker said.

Ports that have introduced the charges this year include NZT, NKHP, and TCSP, which account for around 12 million mt of annual grain handling capacity.

Agricensus contacted the ports’ owners for comment, but had received none at the time of press.

NZT was recently acquired by state-owned lender VTB, which has been buying up assets across the Russian grain market in recent months.

VTB also owns a 33% stake in the NKHP terminal.

The take or pay arrangement at Russia’s deep water ports is one of several issues set to change the shape of grain exports this year.

Authorities started to tighten control over the industry last year as soaring wheat export volumes pushed prices in the domestic market higher, with the knock-on effect increasing bread prices across the country.

Health and safety controls at smaller ports were stepped up, with the new inspection regime helping to ebb the flow from Russia’s Azov Sea ports and redirecting traffic to deep water terminals on the Black Sea.

Truckers were also targeted as part of the shakeup, with axel load limits increasingly enforced to stem grain arrivals at ports.

Grain handlers will often overload trucks in order to maximise margins on journeys, particularly during harvest as supply swells.

And exporters themselves have also reorganised, with a new industry body launched in April to coordinate policy and increase information sharing between trade houses and the government.