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World Food-Import Bill Seen Below 2011 Record at $1.094 Trillion

The world’s food-import bill is expected to remain stable this year as cheaper sugar and cooking oils compensate for increased costs of dairy, fish and meat, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization.

Countries will spend $1.094 trillion to import food this year from $1.092 trillion in 2012, the Rome-based United Nations agency wrote in its biannual Food Outlook report today. Food-import costs rose to a record $1.26 trillion in 2011.

An index of world food prices tracked by the FAO stood at 215.2 points last month, up 5.1 percent from a year earlier and down from a record 237.9 points in February 2011.

“The stability of the global import expenditure masks considerable movements across individual product bills,” the FAO said. “Freight costs, which are not expected to vary significantly from 2012 levels, also contribute to stability.”

The costs of importing animal-protein products including dairy, meat and fish may increase 8 percent to $354 billion on larger volumes as well as higher prices, particularly for dairy products and fish, the FAO said.

Imports of vegetable oils and animal fats may drop to $92.8 billion from $99.1 billion, while the bill for sugar may slide to $38.7 billion from $47 billion, the report showed.

The costs for buying vegetables and fruits are seen little changed, climbing $1.2 billion to $191.8 billion, while the grain import bill may slip $1.1 billion to $163.3 billion.

Staple Crops

“Abundant” domestic harvests of staple crops in low-income food deficit countries are expected to reduce their need to rely on foreign supplies, according to the FAO.

“However, with much lower international prices for key export primary commodities, such as sugar and tropical beverages, the terms-of-trade in food and agriculture for commodity-dependent countries may also deteriorate,” it said.

World grain production is forecast to climb 6.5 percent to 2.46 billion metric tons in 2013, the report showed.

“Latest indications point to a more comfortable world cereal supply-and-demand balance,” the UN agency said.“Good production prospects and a likely replenishment in world stocks could pave the way for calmer markets and some easing of prices in the new season.”

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