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US farmers turn to Iran to plug hole in soyabean sales
To US farmers whose soyabean sales have slumped amid a trade war with China, an unlikely country is lending a hand: Iran. The Islamic republic’s imports of soyabeans from the US have surged this autumn ahead of looming sanctions from President Donald Trump. Almost 335,000 tonnes have left terminals on the Mississippi river since the crop marketing year began in September, data from the US department of agriculture data show, up from zero at the same point last year and more than volumes to most European countries.  The unusual shipments reflect a multi-faceted story. China, the world’s largest soyabean importer, in July sharply raised duties on US supplies in retaliation for tariffs on its products. Soyabean prices have declined by 20 per cent in Chicago as the Chinese buy oilseeds elsewhere.  US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports will resume on November 4 following Mr Trump’s withdrawal from a nuclear accord with world powers. Iran has been stockpiling basic foods such as corn and soyabeans in an aim “not to face any shortage of strategic commodities”, said Mani Jamshidi, a food industry expert in Tehran. Importers including Mexico, Spain, Egypt, Thailand and Iran have taken advantage of the depressed price of US soyabeans. Akbar Sebghati, secretary of the Iranian Oilseed Extraction Industry Association, said they now cost importers €50 less per tonne than soyabeans from South America, the other main source of world supplies. “We buy our commodity from a cheaper producer, no matter [if] it is US or another country. It has nothing to do to politics,” said Mr Sebghati. Addressing the US-China trade war, he said: “We should seize opportunities provided to our country during decision making in world trade.” 

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Iran is a small but growing player in international grain markets, with an estimated 2.6m tonnes in soyabean imports this year. Its poultry industry requires animal feed made from corn, barley, wheat and soya meal, some of it foreign grown.  Sales of US agricultural products to Iran were permitted even before a previous round of international sanctions was lifted in 2015. Sanctions that Mr Trump imposed in August targeted cars, gold and other metals trading and the government’s ability to buy US dollars, excluding agricultural products.  Bunge, the New York-listed grain and oilseed trader with terminals on the Mississippi river, declined to comment on specific contracts but said it “exports agricultural commodities to Iran in accordance with all applicable economic sanctions laws, which authorise the sale of food for humanitarian reasons”.

Sales of US soyabeans to new markets such as Iran have not been enough to fill the hole left by China, which is forecast to need 94m tonnes of imports this year. The US has exported 6.2m tonnes to the rest of the world since September, down from 9.6m tonnes in the same week of last year. Forward sales have also dropped.  “Bringing in a market like Iran, and all the others combined, is essential if China is not going to import from us,” said Sam Funk, economist at, an agricultural consultancy in St Louis. In the year 2018 to date, Iran’s purchases have totalled 886,000 tonnes.

desperate times for both sides ....

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