Global Markets: Wheat – Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa Now Top Importers

    Wheat harvest. Photo: Rome Ethredge

    Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are forecast to be the two largest wheat importing regions after continued growth over the last decade. Both regions have developed a fondness for diets that include more wheat, which has been driving import demand.

    The fast growth of imports by Southeast Asia has also been fueled by increased utilization of wheat in feed rations, while Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth is mainly supported by rapid population growth and urbanization.

    Historically, North Africa and the Middle East were the largest regions for global wheat imports. In the last decade, however, consumption in those regions has not grown as rapidly as in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018/19 specifically, both North Africa and the Middle East are forecast to have lower wheat imports due to bumper crops in key importing countries.

    North Africa’s imports are expected lower based on higher production in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Imports for the Middle East are forecast down as lower demand from Turkey is expected to more than offset higher imports elsewhere.

    Turkey’s import demand is down based on a bumper crop, ample stocks, and lower re-exports of wheat flour.

    This shifting global trade dynamic impacts on the competition between global wheat exporters. The European Union and Russia have become the world’s leading wheat suppliers, taking advantage of their large supplies, competitive pricing, as well as geographical proximity to major markets in Africa and the Middle East.

    In years when those exporters have bumper crops, they even extend their reach to Southeast Asian markets. Historically, Australia, Canada, and the United States are the major exporters of milling wheat to Southeast Asia. Ukraine has expanded its exports to the region as well, becoming a major supplier of feed-quality wheat.

    In recent years, Argentina has shipped wheat to Southeast Asia as well as Africa as its prices are very competitive in peak export months (December-March).

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