Egypt still looking for wheat after angering traders with zero-tolerance ergot policy


Egypt, the world's largest wheat buyer, is tapping global markets again to purchase the strategic grain, its third attempt since reinstating a controversial zero tolerance policy towards the ergot fungus that has infuriated traders.

The state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), set the tender on Sunday to buy an unspecified amount of wheat from global suppliers for shipment from Oct. 16-26, GASC vice chairman Ahmed Youssef said.

Tenders should reach GASC by noon local time (1000 GMT) on Monday. The results should come out after 3:30 p.m. the same day. Wheat bids should be free-on-board, with a separate freight offer, he said.

The surprise announcement comes after GASC was forced to cancel its two previous attempts to purchase wheat. Suppliers had refrained from making offers since Egypt said it was banning any trace of ergot, against the more international practice of tolerating up to 0.05 percent.

Egypt failed to garner a single offer from wheat suppliers at its latest tender on Friday, raising renewed questions about its ability to tap global markets while banning ergot.

Ergot is a common grains fungus that can cause hallucinations when consumed in large amounts but which is considered harmless in low quantities.

GASC rarely makes a tender announcement on a Sunday, when global grain markets are closed.

"No one was expecting a Monday deadline for a GASC tender as markets are closed on Sunday, also the ergot rule is still zero so I don't expect there will be any participation for tomorrow," a Cairo-based trader said.

The ergot rule is being applied retroactively to wheat shipments contracted by GASC prior to the zero policy, causing chaos for inspections at ports of origin and at least two rejections of Romanian and Russian cargoes so far.

Egypt's prime minister held an urgent meeting on Saturday with the ministers of supply, agriculture, health, and trade, to discuss the outstanding wheat shipments affected by the new ergot policy but the outcome has not been announced yet.

For Monday's tender, GASC said it is seeking to buy cargoes of soft and/or milling wheat from the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Poland, Argentina, Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.

GASC said it was also seeking to buy 55,000- to 60,000-tonne cargoes of the following: U.S. North Pacific soft white wheat; U.S. soft red winter wheat; Russian milling wheat; Ukrainian milling wheat, and Australian standard white wheat. GASC is also seeking 60,000-tonne cargoes of the following: Canadian soft wheat; French milling wheat; German milling wheat; Argentine bread wheat; Polish milling wheat; Kazakh milling wheat; Romanian milling wheat, and Bulgarian milling wheat.

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