Politics no barrier as Iran, Russia buy U.S. grain

Chicago | Reuters — U.S. political tensions with Iran and Russia have proved no barrier to those countries buying American grain, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday.

Iran bought 66,000 tonnes of U.S. corn last week for the first time in three years, according to USDA weekly export sales data. Iran last bought U.S. wheat in 2013 and it also bought a small amount of U.S. soybeans in 2014.

“I don’t think it’s indicative of a growing trend,” Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain markets analyst at brokerage Jefferies Bache, said of the latest sale. “Either it was the time slot that they wanted or something along that line didn’t work from other origins and we were able to pick up that one cargo.”

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But given the enmity between Iran and the U.S. dating back to the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iranian buyers turning to the U.S. — or being allowed to — is notable.

Negotiators from Iran and six major powers led by the U.S. in November failed to meet a self-imposed deadline for an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The new deadline is June 30.

U.S. exporters would not reveal the Iranian corn buyer. But European traders said last summer that private grain firms were beginning a slow return to the world market as major food commodity importers as Iran establishes commercial contacts and banking channels. Iran was never barred from buying food under sanctions imposed by Washington and its partners that are targeting Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Recent weeks have also seen Russia — also the target of U.S.-led sanctions over its role in the separatist conflict in Ukraine — back in the market buying U.S. soybeans. Russia purchased another 83,200 tonnes last week, adding to purchases the past month. Russian soybean crops were hurt by flooding last season.

— Christine Stebbins is a Reuters correspondent covering U.S. grain markets from Chicago.

 

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