French wheat export forecast cut again on Black Sea competition

PARIS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Farming agency FranceAgriMer lowered its forecast for French soft wheat exports outside the EU this season for a third straight month and said there could be more cuts due to unrelenting competition from the Black Sea region.

In cereal supply and demand data published on Wednesday, FranceAgriMer pegged French soft wheat exports to non-EU countries in 2017/18 at 9.3 million tonnes, down from the 9.5 million it had estimated in December.

The move had been anticipated by some traders given a sluggish first half to the July-June export campaign, which has left the EU’s biggest grain producer lagging the pace needed to clear its surplus.

FranceAgriMer saw the potential for the non-EU export outlook to be trimmed further to around 9 million tonnes given competition from Black Sea exporting countries led by Russia, said Marc Zribi, head of the agency’s grain and sugar unit.

“The competition battle looks like being tougher than was expected at the start of the season,” he told reporters.

Black Sea origins have claimed a virtual clean sweep so far this season in the tenders of Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, while they were also being aggressively sold to North and sub-Saharan African countries, he said.

France is also facing increased competition from Argentine wheat in Algeria, its main overseas market, as shown by offers in an Algerian tender last week.

The reduced non-EU export forecast would still represent a jump from 5 million tonnes last season, when French exports were hit by a poor 2016 harvest, but is now almost 1 million tonnes below FranceAgriMer’s initial non-EU export outlook for 2017/18.

However, good quality from last summer’s harvest was allowing France to claim more milling wheat sales within the EU following weather-affected crops in countries like Germany and the Baltic states, FranceAgriMer said.

The agency increased its estimate of French soft wheat shipments within the EU to 8.6 million tonnes from 8.1 million last month, with officials citing increased expectations for sales to countries including Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

The upward revision to intra-EU trade led FranceAgriMer to cut projected end-of-season soft wheat stocks to 2.9 million tonnes, from 3.2 million last month, to reach a level that was in line with the average of the past five seasons.

Expected barley stocks at the end of 2017/18 were trimmed to 925,000 tonnes from 1.1 million, reflecting upward revisions both to animal feed use and intra-EU shipments.

Maize stocks were also trimmed, to 2.5 million from 2.6 million previously, due to an increased forecast for exports within the EU.

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