Grain traders eye French wheat in case Ukraine supplies disrupted

SINGAPORE, March 12 Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:32am EDT

SINGAPORE, March 12 (Reuters) - International grain traders are looking at French wheat as a possible replacement for Ukrainian supplies should shipments from one of the world's top exporters get held up by political turmoil over Russia's moves in Crimea.

Most of the spring grain area in Crimea is unlikely to be sown this year due to the geopolitical tensions over the region, Ukraine's agriculture minister said on Tuesday. And while the Black Sea peninsula is not a primary growing area, the threat of wider disruptions worry the market.

U.S. wheat futures jumped almost 3 percent on Tuesday, driven by concerns that the unrest in Ukraine will disrupt exports and worries about dry soils limiting U.S. output. The market gave up some of those gains on Wednesday.

Should Ukraine's grain exports be halted or diminished, France has similar wheat to what is grown there, said traders on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore on Wednesday. French cargoes could replace Ukrainian wheat shipments in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, they said.

"For milling, a lot of Ukrainian wheat is used for blending and there is the possibility of French wheat taking share of those markets if Black Sea supplies are not available," said a Singapore-based trader who sells Black Sea cargoes to South Korea and Japan.

Ukraine's government appealed for Western help on Tuesday to stop Moscow annexing Crimea but the autonomous region seemed fixed on a course that would formalise Russian rule within days.

"As of now there is no problem in getting ships loaded at Ukrainian ports but going forward no one is willing to take the risk," said one European trader.

"If you ask me, can you supply Ukrainian corn or wheat two to three months later? I think it is going to be difficult."

Grain output in Crimea totalled only 1.2 percent of Ukraine's overall harvest in 2013, but traders fear wider disruptions to shipments if the crisis is not resolved.

France exported 2.1 million tonnes of soft wheat in January, of which 1.5 million went outside the European Union, the highest volume shipped out of the 28-member bloc since the start of the 2013/2014 season in July, according to customs data.

Ukraine had exported 7 million tonnes of wheat by end-January in the marketing year which began on July 1, out of estimated sales of 10 million tonnes for the entire year, said James Dunsterville, an analyst at Geneva-based AgFlow.

For corn, the country shipped 12 million tonnes by end-January, out of 18 million tonnes it is likely to export.

"They have probably sold 2.5 million tonnes more of corn which has yet to be shipped out, so the volumes that are risk are not really huge in term of global trade," Dunsterville said.

One Kiev-based exporter said he does not see any risk to cargoes.

"Shipments are going on smoothly, there is no problem in getting supplies to the ports," said Andrew Druzyaka of grain exporter Zernoua.

He estimated Ukraine's corn exports to reach 20 million tonnes in the year to September 2014, and wheat sales to touch 9.5 million to 10 million tonnes in the 2013/14 crop year. (Editing by Tom Hogue)

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