June 29, 2010


Marubeni to export grain from France


Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp plans to export two grain cargoes from France later this year in a new joint venture aimed at reinforcing the group's global supply sources, a company executive said.


After unveiling in May a joint venture with Senalia, which runs the largest grain silo at the French port of Rouen, Marubeni aims to export two cargoes of 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes each sometime between September and December, said Komei Kondo, general manager for grains and oilseeds at Marubeni Europe.


The Japanese firm hoped to reach in three years the joint venture's stated target of 600,000 tonnes of grain shipped per year onto the world market, although the timeframe would depend on unpredictable crop and market conditions, Kondo said in an interview on Monday (June 28).


The first shipments from Rouen would be wheat and/or feed barley, he said.


Marubeni was not targeting specific destinations for exports out of France but would use the new venture, like its other alliances around the world, to bolster its grains supply.


"If we concentrate on one country like Australia, if Australia has a (weather) problem we have a problem... that's why we need many suppliers," Kondo said.


"We have no silo in Europe, we need a silo in Europe," he said, stressing Rouen's importance as Europe's busiest grain terminal.


Marubeni handles about 18.5 million tonnes of grain annually and has in recent years shifted the focus of its food volumes from imports to Japan towards international trading, supported by a series of alliances.


The Japanese firm launched a grains and vegetable oils office in Paris in April 2009 in what it intends to be the driver of a European food unit that also has small non-grains trading operations in London and Milan.

France is the EU's largest grain producer and exporter, with key customers in North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean rim.


Marubeni could also potentially ship French grain to more distant destinations like Asia if grain, freight and currency markets were favourable, Kondo said. ''If we have the chance to export (from France) to Asia we will do it,'' he said. "It depends on the price."


Freight rates were a much more important cost variable for Marubeni than actual grains, he stressed, likening the company's freight-focused trading to the operations of parcel delivery firm Federal Express.


Marubeni may also export French grain to Asia in a separate move following interest from Japanese customers seeking non-genetically modified corn, he said. The trading house has had discussions with French grain cooperatives but prices and volumes offered so far were not attractive enough for shipping to Asia, Kondo said.


Marubeni was also developing wheat supply deals in countries like China, in readiness for any future liberalisation of Japan's milling wheat import tenders, currently restricted to Australian, Canadian and US wheat.


In reaction to a spike in grain prices in 2007/08, Japan, the world's fourth-largest wheat importer, is considering opening up its state-administered milling wheat imports to other origins, such as Europe and the Black Sea.