India is not a significant exporter of wheat and needs to balance its food security needs while helping friendly countries and contracted shipments, government sources said on May 24, almost 10 days after the country banned the export of the foodgrain.
The country, which is the second-largest producer of wheat but accounts for only a 0.47 percent share of global exports, has prohibited export but is allowing contracted supplies with valid letters of credit through its ports.
“Export restrictions have been a regular feature of major food producers, which has adversely affected India too. On the other hand, India has taken the step towards regulation of wheat exports in order to ensure food security of India, its neighbours and vulnerable countries,” one of the sources said.
Export curbs by other countries "have resulted in significant price rise and India has been at the receiving end for these", the source said.
As inflation continues to surge, the government has taken a raft of measure to cool prices. Wheat prices and those of several other commodities have skyrocketed in the global market following the Russia-Ukraine war, amid concerns that Moscow is using disruption of Ukranian wheat supplies as a weapon.
Moscow says it is prepared for a long haul. The war, which is showing no signs of ebbing, has pushed nearly two dozen countries, including Argentina, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey and Iran, to ban or tighten exports of various food items.
Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat followed by the US, Canada, France, Ukraine and Australia.
Singed by heatwave
Not just global factors, the scorching summer that has seen temperatures hit record highs in several parts of the country also forced the government’s hand.
India’s wheat harvest is expected to fall by seven to eight percent due to the severe heatwave in the northwestern parts of the country, minister for commerce and industry Piyush Goyal said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort town of Davos on May 24.
“India never ever was a traditional player in the international wheat market. Until two years ago, we did not even export wheat,” Goyal said.
“What we are producing is about enough for our domestic consumption. When the slight surplus, a lot of which has already been exported, will continue to allow exports for governments which are in serious need, which are very friendly to us.”
Wholesale wheat inflation jumped to 14 percent in March, the highest in 63 months. The last time wholesale wheat inflation was higher was in December 2016.
Countries like Egypt and Turkey, which import wheat from India but have themselves imposed curbs, cannot be seeking India open up, sources said.India exported wheat worth $177 million and $473 million in March and April, respectively, sources said.