* China in market for 200,000 T of Australian wheat
* May also buy U.S. cargoes after decline in prices
SINGAPORE/SYDNEY, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Chinese wheat importers are seeking cargoes for April shipment, trade sources said, as the world’s top consumer aims to take advantage of global prices trading around three-and-half-year lows.
China’s move to import wheat coincides with a rush among the world’s top buyers to grab supplies of the grain after benchmark Chicago prices fell almost 7 percent this month, adding to last year’s 22 percent decline.
“We are getting enquiries from Chinese buyers,” said a manager at an international trading company in Singapore. “They are looking at U.S. as well as Australian wheat.”
China has been actively importing wheat since mid-2013 after its crop suffered extensive damage due to unfavourable weather. The country is likely to emerge as the world’s biggest wheat buyer in the year to June, 2014, with imports expected to surpass 9 million tonnes.
One trader in Sydney said Chinese buyers are seeking 200,000 tonnes of Australian standard wheat for delivery in April and May but no deal has been signed.
Australian wheat prices, which are trading at a premium to the global market, could get a further boost if China makes large purchases, traders said.
Australian prime wheat for March delivery on the east coast is being offered at $70 a tonne premium to Chicago prices as a blistering heat wave threatens grain production.
Typically, Australian wheat attracts a premium of around $20 a tonne and sometimes even trades at a discount to global prices.
A heat wave has hit Australia’s south and southeast, with soaring temperatures causing worry. The weather will not hurt the 2013/14 crop as it has been harvested but it could reduce soil moisture for next year’s crop which will be planted in April and May.
U.S. wheat hovered around its lowest since July, 2010 as ample global supplies continued to weigh, although fresh demand from top importers, including China, is putting a floor under the market.
The pullback in prices has stirred fresh demand, with top importer Egypt making two tender purchases in the past 10 days that brought sales for French and U.S. wheat.
Egypt’s main government wheat buyer GASC booked 60,000 tonnes of U.S. soft red winter wheat as part of a 295,000 tonne purchase last week.
Algeria’s state grains agency OAIC has issued a tender to buy 50,000 tonnes of optional-origin milling wheat for April shipment while Iraq’s state grain board is in the market to purchase at least 50,000 tonnes of hard wheat. (Reporting by Naveen Thukral in SINGAPORE and Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)