CAIRO - 5 September 2017: State grain purchases have surged this year in Egypt, Reuters-compiled data showed, partly driven by government efforts to fill a gap left by a shrinking private sector hit by a crackdown on fraud and smuggling.
Government purchases in the world’s biggest wheat importer rose 80 percent for the first seven months of 2017 versus the same period last year, according to the figures.
State buyer GASC is aiming to buy a record 7 million tonnes of wheat during the fiscal year that started in July, up from about 6 million tonnes last year, the supply minister said in July.
“The 7 million tonnes is the normal now as they have to fill the old fake numbers,” said Hesham Soliman, president of Med Star for Trading, a private operator that says business has slowed.
Wheat buying has moved away from the private sector in the aftermath of reforms brought in this year barring private dealers smuggling foreign wheat into the local harvest to collect on subsidies.
Those reforms led to one of Egypt’s smallest local buying seasons in recent years, about 3.4 million tonnes, down from 5 million tonnes reported the previous year - a figure that some traders and a parliamentary-led investigation said was also partly inflated by fraudulent accounting.
The shift also comes as Egyptians have their purchasing power slashed by International Monetary Fund-backed austerity measures and inflation of over 30 percent.
An increasing number of people have turned to the state’s subsidised bread and away from more expensive private bakeries, pushing demand for state wheat even higher.