Egypt moves to clarify ergot rules on wheat imports

Reuters — Egypt’s supply ministry moved to clarify rules on wheat imports on Thursday, saying it would allow shipments with traces of the grain fungus ergot to enter the country.

Wheat traders have been concerned that uncertainty over payment and inspection terms in Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer, would dampen export demand.

The problem surfaced when a cargo of French wheat was rejected last month due to traces of the infection.

The supply ministry said Thursday it would allow shipments of imported wheat with up to 0.05 per cent level of ergot, although this was not enough to quell concern amongst suppliers previously told any level of infection was not acceptable.

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“It has been decided to keep the percentage as is, without change, after discussions with the agriculture ministry,” the supply ministry’s spokesman said.

The agriculture quarantine authority had previously told Reuters that wheat shipments containing any level of ergot would be barred from entry.

There have since been a series of meetings between officials from both ministries to try to resolve the matter.

Wheat traders said they were waiting to hear the agriculture ministry’s response to be sure the problem had been resolved.

The quarantine authority declined to comment on the supply ministry’s statement on Thursday and agriculture ministry officials could not immediately be reached.

“Obviously there is a clash between the two ministries so let’s wait and see,” one Cairo-based trader said.

The General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), which falls under the authority of the supply ministry, allowed for a 0.05 per cent ergot level under its specifications, but the agricultural quarantine authority had said according to its rules all incoming shipments above zero would be barred.

“We want to wait and hear from the agriculture ministry as that was what was causing the change in the first place,” another trader told Reuters.

European and Egyptian traders have told Reuters they would not participate in GASC tenders if new restrictive requirements were applied to GASC tenders.

“If they let the vessel that was rejected pass, this will be like the official announcement of accepting the 0.05 level,” a third trader said.

Traders said the rejected shipment was currently being re-tested for ergot at an Egyptian port.

Reporting for Reuters by Maha El Dahan in Cairo and Eric Knecht in Abu Dhabi; additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Michael Hogan in Hamburg.

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