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Poor Countries' Grain-Import Bill Seen Climbing to Record

Spending on grain imports by the world’s poor, food-deficient countries is forecast to climb to a record in the year through June on higher cereal prices, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization forecast.

Low-income food-deficient countries may pay $36.5 billion in 2012-13 to buy grain from $35.2 billion a year earlier, the third annual increase, the Rome-based United Nations agency wrote in a report. That compares with a food bill of $32.5 billion in the food-crisis year 2007-08, the data show.

The value of imports is forecast to rise even as bigger harvests in Africa and Asia reduce the volume of purchases, according to the report. The FAO’s cereal-price index rose to 262.6 points in September, the highest level since April last year. The index for grain prices in July surged 17 percent, the biggest jump since February 2008.

“Despite the overall decrease in import requirements, the increase in international cereal prices will strengthen the food import bills,” the FAO wrote.

The cost of poor countries’ wheat imports will climb to $20.2 billion from $19.5 billion, while the bill for importing coarse grains including corn and barley will jump to $5.61 billion from $5.37 billion, according to the FAO. Rice-import costs will rise to $10.7 billion from $10.3 billion, it said.

By volume, grain-import requirements of low income, food-deficient countries are forecast to drop to 84.4 million metric tons from 88.5 million tons, the data show.

Grain-import needs for Egypt, the world’s largest wheat buyer, are forecast to decline to 16.3 million tons in 2012-13 from 18 million tons in the previous year, the FAO said.

Syrian Unrest

Syria’s requirements in the 12 months through June are forecast to climb to 5.21 million tons of cereals from 3.51 million tons in 2011-12, the FAO said. Iraq’s needs are seen at 5.26 million tons from 5.16 million tons the previous season.

“In the Syrian Arab Republic, the continued unrest since early 2011 is hampering normal agricultural activities and is responsible for a below-average harvest in 2012,” the FAO said.

Grain import requirements for Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, are expected to fall to 9.4 million tons from 11.1 million tons, based on the report. The Philippines will need 4.29 million tons of imports, compared with 5.3 million tons in 2011-12, the FAO wrote.

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