USW President Alan Tracy joined the International Grains Council (IGC) for their 25th annual conference June 14 to present an overview of changes in global wheat trade, trade distorting government policies and the United States’ shift to quality-based wheat markets. More than 200 attendees at the conference in London, United Kingdom, came from grain importing and exporting countries around the world to hear updates on production prospects and discuss major issues facing the grain trade.
One of the biggest shifts in the world wheat market in the last 15 years has been the emergence of Russia as a major wheat exporter, averaging 17.9 MMT from 2011/12 to 2015/16. With that growth, Russia has become a primary supplier of wheat to price-sensitive markets across the Middle East and North Africa, displacing other traditional suppliers including the United States, Canada and the European Union (EU).
USW has narrowed its activities in markets now served mainly by Black Sea suppliers but increased its resources in growing quality-sensitive markets, primarily in Southeast Asia and Latin America. An increasing majority of flour millers and wheat food processors in those markets see wheat as a food ingredient with specific value, rather than as a bulk commodity sourced merely on price. Connecting with these new markets provides more value for overseas customers and, in turn, helps U.S. farmers capture more revenue per acre for the high-quality wheat they produce.
Tracy also discussed government policies that distort trade. Reflecting on previous IGC meetings, he recalled long-past discussions on the harm caused by rival country export subsidy programs — which are largely no longer in use. Today, instead of export subsidies, the biggest market distortion comes from domestic support programs, primarily in several advanced developing countries.
Every WTO member country has agreed to specific limits and rules on agricultural support programs. However, many countries exceed those limits and fail to report their programs accurately. When an importing country provides a government support price above world market prices, they encourage domestic production. That offsets imports to the detriment of the global trading system and to farmers in other countries.
USW has spent the last five years documenting and quantifying the effects from these programs. The forum presented an ideal place to share and discuss the data as out-of-compliance programs not only harm the United States, but also exporters around the world.
By Dalton Henry, USW Director of Policy