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NEW DELHI : Egypt, Israel, Oman, Nigeria and South Africa have approached India to secure wheat supplies, two government officials said, as the Russia-Ukraine conflict entered its fourth week, threatening a global food crisis.

Supply disruptions because of the war between Russia and Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, have triggered panic among wheat-importing nations.

These countries are rushing to secure supplies amid shortages and high prices.

India is also pursuing wheat-importing nations that have traditionally not relied on Indian wheat such as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon.

High freight rates and a shortage of shipping containers could hold up India’s attempts to expand exports, according to some government officials
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High freight rates and a shortage of shipping containers could hold up India’s attempts to expand exports, according to some government officials

Russia and Ukraine export nearly one-third of global wheat every year.

The Indian government is also looking at measures to boost exports, including addressing logistical bottlenecks related to ports and railways and ensuring the produce meets global quality standards.

The commerce ministry is in talks with the railways and port authorities to meet immediate demand for additional wheat transport.

“Countries such as Egypt, Israel, Oman, Nigeria and South Africa have already placed requests for wheat from India," said one of the government officials cited above, requesting anonymity.

“The government is working closely with the Indian Railways and port authorities to smoothen the process."

While India is the second-largest wheat producer with a share of around 14.14% of the world’s production in 2020, it accounted for less than 1% of global wheat exports. In 2020-21, India entered new wheat markets such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Qatar and Indonesia.

India is in final talks to start wheat exports to Egypt—one of the largest importers of wheat from Ukraine and Russia, the ministry of commerce and industry said on Saturday.

Queries emailed to spokesperson for ministry of commerce and industry on Sunday wasn’t immediately answered.

India is looking at exporting nearly 10 million tonnes of wheat in FY23 to bridge the supply gaps arising from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. India has so far exported 6.6 million tonnes of wheat in 2021-22, which is triple the 2.15 million tonnes exported in 2020-21.

Efforts are underway to check that sub-standard quality is not exported so that India remains a long-term exporter to these countries. The department of agriculture, co-operation and farmers’ welfare could conduct pest risk analysis and then take up market access requests, the first official cited above said.

However, the government officials pointed out that high freight rates and a shortage of shipping containers could hold up India’s attempts to expand exports.

These issues, if not addressed, may restrict Indian wheat exports to nearly 8 million tonnes in FY23, short of 10 million tonnes estimated in the best-case scenario.

India’s wheat export share increased from 0.14% in 2016 to 0.54% in 2020. India produces around 107.59 million tonnes of wheat annually, of which a major chunk goes for domestic consumption. According to the commerce ministry, India’s wheat exports are mainly to neighbouring countries, with Bangladesh having the largest share of more than 54% in both volume and value terms in 2020-21.

The second official stated that certain WTO norms which prohibit exports of commodities bought at minimum support price (MSP) may also hinder exports. Also, the shipping ministry will have to ensure the availability of containers in line with the requirements of exporters.

Experts said several policy-related calls need to be made to facilitate wheat exports, and prolonged escalation in tension between Russia and Ukraine could mean that the net food-importing countries will be pushed to the wall. This, in turn, would make them look towards large producers of wheat such as India.

Madan Sabnavis, chief economist, Bank of Baroda, said that India would have to iron out a number of policy-related hurdles to gain market access which they have not been able to do in the past, adding that India has enough wheat stockpile to cool down wheat prices.

India was never a significant exporter of wheat, but in the last two years, the country was able to export large quantities of wheat, said Biswajit Dhar, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, JNU.

According to the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, the top 10 importing countries for Indian wheat in 2020-21 were Bangladesh, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Afghanistan, Qatar, Indonesia, Oman and Malaysia.

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