Egypt withdraws from UN grain treaty prompting sadness and concern

FILE PHOTO: A farmer tends wheat at a field in the El-Menoufia governorate, north of Cairo

By Aidan Lewis and Sarah El Safty

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt, one of the world's largest wheat importers, has given notice it will withdraw at the end of June from a decades-old U.N. grains treaty, causing consternation among some other signatories to the convention.

Egypt's departure from the multinational Grains Trade Convention (GTC), which promotes market transparency to further trade cooperation, follows a period of turmoil in grains markets linked to the war in Ukraine and concerns about global food security.

Egypt signed the GTC, the only international treaty covering trade in grains, at its inception in 1995, and has been a member of the council that governs it since 1949. In February it submitted a request to withdraw with effect from June 30, 2023.

"This came without prior information. Several delegations within the IGC are surprised and sad about the decision," Arnaud Petit, executive director of the International Grains Council, which administers the treaty, told Reuters.

Several members would ask Egypt to reconsider its decision, he added.

Egypt's foreign ministry told Reuters in a statement that the decision was made after an assessment by the ministries of supply and trade concluded Egypt's membership in the council delivered "no added value".

Other signatories to the GTC include major grain importers and exporters such as the United States and the European Union.

Two sources familiar with the matter, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters that Egypt owed the IGC membership fees. The foreign ministry did not respond to a question about fees.

Traders told Reuters they did not expect an impact on the grains market, but one diplomatic source said that symbolically, Egypt's departure from a multinational organisation could be seen as concerning.

The war in Ukraine disrupted Egypt's wheat purchases last year and the government held talks with countries including India as it tried to diversify from Black Sea supplies.

Despite those efforts, Egypt relied on competitive Russian imports to boost its reserves through traditional tenders, some funded by the World Bank, as well as non-traditional direct offers.

The economic impact of the war also exacerbated a foreign currency shortage in Egypt, leading to a slowdown in imports, a backlog of goods in ports, and a $3 billion financial support package from the IMF.

In January, Egypt's government instructed ministries to curb non-essential spending until the end of the fiscal year.

(Reporting by Sarah El Safty and Aidan Lewis; Additional reporting by Nigel Hunt and Nafisa El Tahir; editing by Barbara Lewis)