April 18, 2012 / 3:46 PM / 8 years ago

Iran starts feed grain imports as sanctions bite

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran’s state feed agency SLAL is tendering to buy corn and soybean meal, European traders said on Wednesday, needed to feed the country’s large livestock herds as private importers struggle with trade financing due to Western sanctions.

A woman walks past corn as she arrives at a holy shrine to attend a mass prayer ceremony before breaking her fast during the month of Ramadan in northern Tehran August 4, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

The purchase tender for 150,000 tones of corn and 100,000 tones of soybean meal grain sought shipment in May/June and the closing date for offers was said to be early next week, the traders added.

Other European traders later said SLAL had also bought a consignment of about 55,000 tones of Australian-origin feed wheat in the past few days, adding that a previous 55,000 tone consignment of optional-origin wheat was said to have been purchased by the state agency last week.

Western sanctions, aimed at Iran’s disputed nuclear program, do not target food shipments, but financial measures have frozen Iranian firms out of much of the global banking system.

Sanctions are making it difficult for importers to obtain letters of credit or conduct international transfers of funds through banks.

“The state is being compelled to step in with feed purchases as the private sector feed wheat buying is still at very much below normal levels because of the financial disruption of the sanctions,” a European trader said.

SLAL was expected to start buying hundreds of thousands of tones of feed grains, traders told Reuters last week.

The latest tender also reflects a shift in focus after state food agency GTC bought more than 2 million tones of milling wheat in March, building up stocks after private buyers were hit by the trade finance squeeze.

The Iranian government bought wheat on international markets at a frantic pace in March, snapping up 2.5 to 3 million tones of bread wheat, paying over international prices as private Iranian flour mills found they could not purchase in the face of toughened western sanctions.

“There are several hundred thousand tones of purchasing inquiries from private Iranian feed buyers in the market which are still open and basically being ignored,” another trader said.

“I had a big feed wheat and corn inquiry this week offering payment in euros via a Swiss bank. But for me it was too risky and I left it.”

A Swiss bank owned by India’s Hinduja Group said this month it was continuing food trade finance with Iran despite the sanctions.

Some Iranian private feed grain shipments were continuing via the Caspian Sea with payment in advance, traders said.

Meanwhile, traders said the state food agency GTC is still checking milling wheat prices on a weekly basis and could yet make additional purchases of food wheat as well.

Additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg; Editing by Veronica Brown and Keiron Henderson

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