Egypt to import 80,000 tonnes of rice ahead of Ramadan in June

Egypt will import 80,000 tonnes of rice ahead of the start of Ramadan in June, official news agency MENA quoted the cabinet as saying on Friday.

Egypt traditionally sees demand for foodstuffs surge ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan — when post-fast meals are often large, celebratory gatherings — raising prices at the markets.

Egypt often produces more rice than it consumes, but a decision by the supply ministry this year not to stockpile the staple lead traders to hoard their stocks for higher prices, Moustafa El-Naggari, head of the rice committee at the Agricultural Export Council, told Ahram Online last month.

Mahmoud Diad, the spokesperson for the ministry, told Ahram Online in April that the decision was driven by an abudancy in rice supplies, adding that an agreement with traders on prices was soon to be reached.

Rice production in Egypt reached 3.75 million tonnes in 2015 with around 700,000 tonnes carried over from 2014. Annual consumption hovers around 3.3 million tonnes.

The General Authority For Supply Commodities (GASC) will buy the 80,000 tonnes through direct contracts rather than tenders, GASC Vice Chairman Mamdouh Abdel Fattah told Reuters on Friday, with the shipment due to arrive within a week to 10 days.

GASC has tried three times to hold rice import tenders, but has had to cancel each one either because of low responses or due to prices being deemed too high.

The government has threatened to seek direct contracts to buy rice from abroad if prices offered by traders at its tenders are not reduced but traders say Egypt is insisting on unrealistic prices.

Egypt banned rice exports on April 4 to preserve stocks for the local market and to combat the rising prices.

The government lifted a previous export ban on the crop in October due to an expected surplus and imposed an export tariff of 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($225.2) a tonne, but that decision expired on April 3.

The government statement said Egypt had enough sugar stockpiled to last until the end of the year and enough vegetable oil for the next three months. More vegetable oil would be imported as needed, it said.

Ramadan is slated to begin on 6 June.