World in brief

EU, U.S. to commit on bilateral trade duties

BRUSSELS (Reuters) — United States president Barack Obama and European Union leaders are expected to promise to remove all tariffs on bilateral trade at their summit on March 26, an ambitious step toward the world’s largest free trade deal, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.

The joint declaration seeks to overcome tensions following Washington’s offer to cut its duties by less than the Europeans had hoped for and after Brussels pledged to remove almost all of its own tariffs.

“The EU and the United States are firmly committed to concluding a comprehensive and ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” the draft statement reads, referring to U.S.-EU free-trade talks by their official name.

“Those goals include eliminating all duties on bilateral goods trade,” said the statement, which will be delivered at the end of the day-long summit in Brussels.

Acceptance of geneticaly modified crops and growth promotants in beef continue to present major hurdles.

Unrest disrupts Crimean seeding

KIEV, Ukraine (Reuters) — Most of the spring grain area in Crimea is unlikely to be sown this year due to a lack of fuel caused by turmoil in the region, Ukrainian agriculture minister Ihor Shvaika said.

“According to our preliminary forecast, the major part of the area (in Crimea) will remain unsown,” Shvaika said.

Grain output in Ukraine’s Crimea region totalled 765,000 tonnes in 2013, or 1.2 percent of Ukraine’s overall harvest.

The government had said the harvest could reach 1.2 million tonnes of grain in 2014.

Shvaika said that military conflict in Crimea, taken over by Russian armed forces, “made impossible” the supply of fuel to regions that had already started major field work.

He said Ukrainian farms had already sown more than 395,000 acres of early grains or four percent of the initial area.

Ukraine plans to sow a total of 21.2 million acres of spring grain this year, including 7.1 million acres of early grains: spring wheat and spring barley.

Analysts say Ukraine is likely to harvest up to 60 million tonnes of grain this year.

Brazil government slashes forecast

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) — Brazilian government crop supply agency Conab slashed its forecast for the 2013-14 soybean harvest by five percent to 85.44 million tonnes last week, citing climate problems in several states late in the growing period.

The new outlook probably reflects the worst of the damage, and the next official forecast should remain stable or even increase slightly, Neri Geller, director of agricultural policy at the agriculture ministry, said at a news conference.

Because of hot, dry weather in southeastern Brazil earlier this year, yields appear to be as much as 10 percent lower than those expected in February, Conab said in its sixth estimate for the current harvest. The dry weather also left the crop more susceptible to pests.

The top-producing state, Mato Grosso, has the opposite problem. Heavy rains during harvest, now 60 percent complete, are hurting soybean quality.

Egypt targets four million tonnes of wheat

CAIRO (Reuters) — Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, aims to buy the same amount of local wheat from its farmers’ 2014 crop as it did last year, said minister Khaled Hanafi, while appearing to scale back a target set by his predecessor.

Hanafi was appointed Feb. 26 after then prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi’s cabinet resigned unexpectedly. His predecessor, Mohamed Abu Shadi, had said in January that Egypt was aiming to procure four million tonnes from the 2014 crop.

Last year, Egypt ended up only buying 3.7 million tonnes of home-grown wheat during the 2013 harvest.

Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s government, ousted by the army last July, had aimed to buy four to five million tonnes of local wheat last year.

In addition to its local supply, Egypt still needs huge quantities of foreign wheat with higher gluten content to make flour suitable for subsidized bread.

It buys around 10 million tonnes from abroad to spend on the bread program, which provides loaves of bread to Egyptian at a cost of one U.S. cent each.

UN food price index jumps

ROME (Reuters) — Global food prices rose 2.6 percent in February in the sharpest climb since mid-2012 due to unfavourable weather, the United Nations food agency said, as the crisis in Ukraine threatened to cause future volatility.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index, which measures monthly price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 208.1 points in February, up 5.2 points from a slightly revised January index of 202.9.

Unfavourable weather in the southern hemisphere and parts of the United States were the most important cause of the rises, FAO’s senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian said.

However, he said market nervousness about the crisis in Ukraine could affect prices in March.

Markets are carefully watching a developing crisis over a Russian military intervention in the Crimea region of Ukraine, the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter.

China to boost subsidies

BEIJING, China (Reuters) — China plans to broaden the scope and increase spending on agricultural subsidies for grains and other commodities in a bid to boost food security, the country’s top economic planner said.

Beijing also intends to speed up energy pricing reforms to reduce its reliance on coal.

Maintaining food security and environmental protection are among China’s top priorities this year, as rapid urbanization threatens to swallow up arable farmlands and pollution chokes swathes of the country.

“Problems hindering steady agricultural development are prominent. Resource and environmental constraints have tightened; infrastructure for irrigation and water conservancy is still weak … and agricultural production is not profitable,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in its 2014 work report.

The NDRC said it will lift funds for agricultural subsidies, and devote more to the production of grain and other important agricultural products, new agricultural businesses, and major agricultural regions that produce grain, canola seed or hogs.

Support will also be provided for beef and mutton production.

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