* Islamist government says Egypt has good wheat stocks
* Nomani's replacment is veteran GASC official
* Traders see no major grains payment problems
* Nomani says his departure was due to promotion
By Shaimaa Fayed and Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, Feb 20 One of the most powerful figures
on the global wheat market, Nomani Nomani, said on Wednesday he
has left his job as vice chairman of Egypt's state grains buyer
GASC, at a time when the country is struggling with falling
foreign currency reserves.
For more than three years he has overseen strategic buying
for the world's biggest importer of wheat, encompassing Egypt's
2011 revolution and the periods of political and economic
uncertainty since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak.
The Islamist government of President Mohamed Mursi
government stressed on Wednesday that the country had ample
stocks to produce bread, the national staple, and grains traders
reported no significant disruption to Egyptian payments despite
a severe shortage of foreign currency.
Nomani gave no reason for his move beyond saying it was a
promotion. "I got promoted to become an adviser to the minister
of trade and supplies, which means that I will no longer handle
the wheat bidding and buying process, starting now," Nomani told
(For a profile of Nomani Nomani, see )
Nomani said Mamdouh Abdel Fattah had taken over as acting
deputy head of the GASC (General Authority for Supply
Commodities) for a period of one year, but it was not yet clear
if this was renewable or not.
Fattah is career civil servant who has worked at GASC since
the 1980s but had not until now been directly involved in the
wheat buying process. His previous position was as a senior aide
to the minister of trade and supplies, responsible for purchase
and distribution of products.
HARD ACT TO FOLLOW
European grains traders expressed disappointment at Nomani's
departure but said they saw no major problems with Egypt funding
its grains purchases.
"Mr Nomani is a very hard and effective worker who won a lot
of trust in the market. An era will change and it will be a hard
act to follow," one trader told Reuters.
Another pointed to the importance of maintaining affordable
food supplies at a time of political conflict between Mursi's
government and the liberal and leftist opposition.
"Large and continued wheat imports to supply the Egyptian
state rationing scheme are a key factor in keeping the Egyptian
public happy with cheap bread and I think the government will
put top priority on keeping imports high," the trader said.
"I have seen some minor delays in the Egyptian private
sector with some buyers struggling to get letters of credit
operational. There were delays for 4-5 days, but this is not all
that much of an issue."
Egypt's foreign currency reserves have fallen to $13.6
billion, less than the $15 billion needed to cover three months'
worth of imports. In an attempt to control the rate of a drop in
the Egyptian pound's value, the central bank introduced regular
dollar auctions in December.
The Egyptian economy has been hit by more than two years of
turmoil since the popular uprising that swept Mubarak from
power. The unrest has driven away tourists and investors.
Central bank governor Hisham Ramez said this week that he
had taken steps to prioritise certain imports including
foodstuffs, production machines and their spare parts, and
The cabinet said on Wednesday that Egypt already had stocks
of wheat to last 101 days and this would rise to 126 days as
more imports arrive.
GASC set a tender on Tuesday to buy an unspecified amount of
wheat from global suppliers for April 10-20 shipment.