Jordan's Grain Troubles Reach Prime Minister Amid Shortage Risks

  • Prime Minister Ensour met wheat and barley importers this week
  • Jordan seeking more sellers after rejecting Polish wheat

Jordan’s inability to secure sufficient wheat supplies from international traders to feed a population swollen by almost 2 million refugees has escalated to the prime minister’s office.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour met with importers of wheat and barley Tuesday to discuss shipment rules and encourage agents representing international traders to submit offers for the nation’s grain tenders, said Hayel Obeidat, director general of Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration, who attended the meeting. A call to the prime minister’s office wasn’t returned.

Traders have been reluctant to sell grains to the Jordanian government after the Middle Eastern nation rejected a cargo of Polish wheat earlier this year because it said the grain didn’t meet specifications, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. The lack of offers comes just as an influx of migrants for Syria and Iraq boost the number of people that need to be fed.

"The PM asked for the meeting during which we reassured importers that they should have no concerns," Obeidat said by phone from Amman Thursday. "Some importers refrained over the past period from submitting bids to wheat tenders. They had some concerns and fears especially after Jordan rejected a shipment of wheat from Poland."

Jordan had to resell 50,000 metric tons of Polish wheat in October after saying the cargo didn’t meet its specifications. The nation could face wheat shortages as it fails to attracts sellers amid a high number of refugees, Swithun Still, director of Solaris Commodities in Morges, Switzerland, a trader of Russian grains, said last month.

Jordan, with a permanent population of 6.6 million, according to World Bank data, has also taken in about 1.4 million Syrians and at least half a million Iraqis, the Economist Intelligence Unit said Sept. 23.

The prime minister’s meeting was also attended by the ministers of health and agriculture and the secretary general of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, according to Obeidat. Jordan wants to attract others sellers of grains as it buys 90 percent of its wheat from one company, he said.

"We want agents of international companies to submit bids as we are keen to diversify our sources," he said. "Refraining from submitting bids is unjustified as our standards are in line with international standards."

Changes to Jordan’s tender rules this year led to a lack of offers and fewer traders participating, Scott Wellcome, a trader at Dubai-based Hakan Agro DMCC, said last month.
The government in May modified the acceptable mold and yeast count, but it “backfired as apparently no supplier can meet the new standard,” the USDA’s FAS said in July.

The country had to reissue a tender for the fifth time before being able to buy 100,000 tons of wheat last month. The latest request for bids from barley suppliers was reissued Wednesday as Jordan received less than the three required offers.

Jordan signed a memorandum of understanding to speed up lab tests for wheat imports following Tuesday’s meeting, Yanal Barmawi, spokesman of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said by phone Thursday. Tests will need to be completed in four to six days to address delays for vessels at ports, he said. Importers will also have the right to ask for testing of the samples at any of the local certified labs and will be allowed to be present during the testing, he said.

Another memo will be signed with the Ministry of Agriculture soon to speed up the process of handling shipments at ports, according to Barmawi.

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