New Delhi:India has decided to monitor all rock phosphate imports from Egypt for quality following recent instances of low-grade material being exported by that country, according to two fertilizer ministry officials.

An order to this effect was issued in the second week of December after some samples of Egyptian rock phosphate were found containing lower phosphatic content than the established norm.

Phosphate rock is loaded into railroad cars(File photo Bloomberg)

“We are going to monitor all the consignments of rock phosphate that come from Egypt," said one of the two officials. Both declined to be identified.

Egyptian exporters have been shipping low-quality rock phosphate to India since May, when the government notified a new grade of single super phosphate (SSP) fertilizer that requires 27.5% phosphorous content, this official said.

The second official said any rock phosphate with lower than 30% phosphorous content finds little use in manufacturing most phosphatic fertilizers, and so is mostly unusable.

“The 30% mark is a sort of threshold that separate high-quality rock phosphate from the low-quality variety," this official said.

Neither official, however, could say why the government wants to discourage the import of low-grade rocks when these are suitable for producing the new category of SSP.

They also declined to comment on why imports only from Egypt are to be monitored and not those from other countries. India imported 6.4 million tonnes (mt) of rock phosphate in 2010; about 1mt of this came from Egypt.

The second official said the market for inferior-grade rock phosphate is depressed compared with that for rocks with at least 30% content.

International prices for rocks with 30-35% phosphatic content are $180-210 a tonne, and for inferior rocks $105-110 a tonne, this official said.

Egyptian exporters hiked the price for the low-grade rock phosphate to $180-190 a tonne since May, the official said. But “ever since the monitoring order was issued last week, prices for the inferior rock have again crashed and have come back to $105-110 levels."

Tarun Surana, an analyst with Mumbai-based Sunidhi Securities and Finance Ltd, confirmed that in the past few days contract prices had indeed fallen to $105-110 for the inferior-quality rocks.