Data blog

Data Blog

by the WTO Secretariat

Global imports of seaborne wheat maintain upward trend

By Emmanuelle Ganne (WTO), Alexander Karavaytsev (International Grains Council — IGC), Mun How Mong (WTO), Cédric Pene (WTO)

Wheat is among the world’s most common food staples. Its availability is therefore crucial for food security in many parts of the globe. While around one-quarter of the world’s wheat supply is obtained through international trade — 80 per cent of it seaborne trade — this share is much higher for some net food-importing developing economies. This highlights how important it is for international trade channels to function well.

A new dashboard to log wheat maritime trade and food security

The WTO and the International Grains Council (IGC) have jointly developed a new dashboard to allow users to monitor short-term trends in maritime wheat flows. This information is particularly important at a time when concerns about food security and risks of supply chain disruptions are so high on the agenda.

Data on global seaborne wheat shipments

The latest data reveals that seaborne shipments of wheat continued at a strong pace in the second half of May 2023, with arrivals at monitored ports estimated at around 7.7 million tonnes. This is 40 per cent higher than the same period last year and one-third higher than the three-year average.

Around 6.5 million tonnes of wheat were dispatched over the last 14 days. Taking into account volumes of wheat in transit as of 4 June (4.2 million tonnes), Russia, with close to 3 million tonnes, was the world’s largest wheat exporter, followed by Australia, with over 2 million tonnes, Canada (1.4m), the United States (0.8m), Ukraine (0.5m) and France (0.4m). China, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt and Spain are the key destinations in order of volume for these exports (as of 4 June).

After a relatively slow start to the July 2022 – June 2023 season due partly to disruptions caused by the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, global maritime trade flows accelerated in late 2022 as global prices retreated as a result of improving global wheat availability and stiff competition for export business. Prices also eased as maritime exports from Ukraine resumed following agreement on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was signed in July 2022 under the auspices of the United Nations and Türkiye.

Cumulative 2022-23 global seaborne imports of wheat were around 140 million tonnes by the end of 2023, marginally higher than the volume during the same period the previous year, and 5 per cent higher than the average volume over the past three seasons.

However, parts of Africa, Southern and South-eastern Asia as well as the Caribbean and South America have seen a decline in imports while imports to Western and Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, Europe and Oceania have increased.

Contrasts in deliveries to Africa and Asia

In Northern Africa, disappointing harvests in some countries reduced domestic wheat availability, underpinning imports across the region in May. Deliveries in the second half of the month were estimated at 1.9 million tonnes — almost double the import levels during the same period one year ago. For the marketing year (July-June), the cumulative total through May stands at around 29 million tonnes, up by 9 per cent year-on-year, with smaller year-on-year imports by Egypt outweighed by larger arrivals in other countries in the region, notably Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

Wheat imports by Western Asia have also been exceptionally strong, with cumulative deliveries through the end of May 42 per cent above the average level over the same period and one-quarter higher than last season. This trend is expected to continue in the coming weeks. Of the 8.6 million tonnes of wheat in transit to monitored ports around the world as of the end of May, with a significant portion originating from Russia, the bulk was destined for Western Asia (1.7 million tonnes) and Northern Africa (1.6 million tonnes).

In contrast, wheat deliveries to Western, Eastern and Central Africa are lagging well behind those for last season and the average pace of exports. In Eastern Africa, the bulk of the year-on-year decline stems from lower deliveries to Djibouti, the major portion of which is assumed to be transhipped to Ethiopia, where import needs this season are likely capped by a good local crop. Accumulated deliveries to Madagascar, Réunion and Kenya are also lower than last season but those to Somalia and Tanzania are up slightly. In Western Africa, reduced imports by Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Togo outweigh larger deliveries to Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.

Deliveries to Southern Asia have been generally slow this season, in part owing to smaller deliveries to Iran, where long delays at discharge were also reported in recent months. Cumulative arrivals in the region lagged last season by one-quarter as of the end of May.

Delivery times to some regions have increased

In the period from July 2022 to May 2023, calculated delivery times (from dispatch to unloading) took markedly longer to reach monitored regions than they did during the previous season (July-June), with regions such as Eastern Africa, Central America, South America, Eastern Asia, Other Europe and Southern Asia especially affected. For Southern Asia, delivery times in the July 2022 — May 2023 period averaged 46 days, up from 33 days during the prior season — a relatively steep increase stemming partly from longer delivery times to Iran.

South-Eastern Asia and Central Africa have some of the longest average delivery times.

The wheat maritime trade and food security dashboard provides aggregated estimates for seaborne wheat shipments based on private vessel tracking, compiled by Kpler, a commodities market data and analytics solutions company. Data are updated twice a month, in the middle and at the end of each month.

In addition, two live dashboards, which are updated every three hours, enable users to visualize the short-term evolution of trade in grains and oilseeds, including wheat, as well as corn, barley and soybeans over the previous 14 days. These live dashboards will be discussed in a future blog post.

The dashboards discussed in this post can be accessed here.