* Kazakhstan says has 15 mln T grain export potential
* But goals snag on acute lack of rail cars
* Kazakhstan borrows rail cars from other nations
* State grain trader to boost purchases on domestic market
* Kazakh grain exported to more than 70 countries (Adds geography of grain exports, domestic purchases)
By Raushan Nurshayeva
ASTANA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan exported around 4.1 million tonnes of grain and flour in the four months to Dec. 31, the Agriculture Ministry said on Tuesday, saying a lack of rail cars was a bottleneck as the pace appeared to lag behind its forecasts for the full year.
Kazakhstan is among the world’s top 10 exporters of wheat and for the last few years has been its largest flour exporter.
“According to our forecasts, the export potential of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the 2011/12 marketing year will total around 15 million tonnes,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Muslim Umiryayev told a news conference on Tuesday.
“To realise in full the country’s export potential of 15 million tonnes a year, it is necessary to ensure that a total of 10.2 million tonnes, including flour and 8.7 million tonnes of grain proper, must be loaded for exports by July 1 of the current year,” the ministry said in an analytical note.
The vast steppe nation of 16.7 million people, which covers an area five times the size of France, harvested a post-Soviet record grain crop of 26.9 million tonnes last year.
The harvest was more than double the amount of grain produced in 2010, when drought damaged crops across the Black Sea grain region.
Kazakhstan exported 5.9 million tonnes of wheat and flour in the previous marketing year to June 30, 2011.
An official at state-owned grain trader the Food Contract Corporation (FCC) said last month the country would not manage to export more than 10 million tonnes, including flour in grain equivalent, out of the potential 15 million.
FCC head Beibitkhan Kabdrakhmanov said the corporation had decided on Aug. 22 to buy 5 million tonnes of grain on the domestic market at 25,000 tenge ($168) per tonne.
“But then we saw that 5 million tonnes is not enough,” he told the same news conference. “There is still a great deal of grain available, therefore a decision was taken to buy a further 3 million tonnes at 16,500 tenge ($111).”
“We have already purchased slightly more than 100,000 tonnes,” he said. “Probably, the price will now rise to 20,000-21,0000 tenge per tonne.”
The FCC, which buys grain primarily to keep internal bread prices stable, has said it plans to export grain in this marketing year. Kabdrakhmanov told Reuters on Tuesday, however, that it had not started exporting grain yet.
Umiryayev said Kazakh grain was currently exported to more than 70 countries.
“Traditional markets for Kazakh grain are Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran. Besides, Egypt is a market for Kazakh grain this year, as well as countries of the Mediterranean region and Belarus,” he said.
Umiryayev said Kazakhstan’s export potential allows it to meet the 15 million tonne target this year but added, “The availability of rail cars for grain shipments remains a bottleneck.”
Agriculture Ministry data released on Tuesday showed that Kazakhstan has a total of 5,200 rail cars for shipping grain, of which only 4,500 are in satisfactory condition.
“At the same time, a total of 10,500 rail cars are needed for grain exports,” the ministry said.
“For these purposes, a total of 2,880 rail cars have been borrowed abroad for grain shipments,” it added.
Umiryayev said that to facilitate exports from landlocked Kazakhstan, the government was considering subsidising the costs of shipping grain across Russia to terminals on the Sea of Azov as well as the Black Sea and Baltic Sea starting in March. (Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jane Baird)