Egypt appoints new top wheat buyer

Cairo | Reuters — Egypt appointed a new head on Sunday for its state wheat-importing body — one of the most influential positions in the global wheat market — as it remains mired in a dispute over the quality of grain it will buy.

Minister of Supply Khaled Hanafi told Reuters Ahmed Youssef has been formally appointed as the new vice-chairman of the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), having said earlier on Sunday that he was the top candidate for the job.

Reuters exclusively reported on Tuesday that the world’s largest wheat importer was changing the head of GASC, its main state grain buyer.

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The appointment comes as GASC gets ready for a new wheat importing season with no resolution to a long-standing dispute over the amount of ergot, a common grain fungus, it will allow in wheat purchased from abroad.

Ahmed Youssef used to head the central administration of purchasing at GASC before Sunday’s appointment.

The vice-chairman of GASC oversees the strategic buying of wheat for Egypt, which operates a massive bread subsidy programme that feeds tens of millions of poor Egyptians.

GASC tender purchases are closely watched by global wheat markets because of their influence on price direction.

Mamdouh Abdel Fattah has been in charge of the agency since early 2013 and has said he is moving to head another state commodity firm, the Food Industries Holding Company.

GASC’s new head starts his purchasing job as Egypt continues to baffle global wheat markets with mixed signals concerning the amount of ergot fungus allowed in its imports.

Egyptian agricultural quarantine authorities’ refusal to let in a single grain of wheat infected with ergot, a common fungus, has wreaked havoc on the world’s largest wheat buyer’s tenders for months and is at odds with a more commonly accepted international standard of up to 0.05 per cent.

Reuters reported on June 23 that a legal snag had held up an anticipated decree by the prime minister that would have resolved the issue through enforcing the global standard.

“The ergot situation is still vague and it will not be clear whether GASC will resume its tenders under the current circumstances until the new vice chairman is announced,” one Cairo-based trader said.

Another Cairo-based trader said GASC could announce a tender soon after the Eid al-Fitr holiday ends next week.

Reporting for Reuters by Ehab Farouk; additional reporting and writing for Reuters by Maha El Dahan.

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