Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest wheat importer, plans to buy 6.5 percent less foreign food wheat in the year to March 2013 in anticipation of higher local production, helped by government initiatives to lift food self sufficiency.
A panel of experts on Wednesday approved a plan by the Ministry of Agriculture to buy 4.78 million tonnes of foreign wheat for milling use in 2012-13, compared with the 2011-12 plan for 5.11 million tonnes.
Japan, which keeps a tight grip on wheat imports, sets an import target annually to supplement local crops, and buys foreign wheat via tenders and sells to users at prices revised every six months based on purchase costs.
Japan’s lower wheat import estimate came at a time when the world has a surplus of supply due to healthy harvests in major producing countries.
But demand is expected to be underpinned by the need to replace costly corn in animal feed, traders said.
In its monthly supply and demand estimates earlier this month, the US Department of Agriculture lowered its estimate of world wheat stocks at the end of the year to May 2012 to 209.6 million tonnes, down from its February estimate of 213.1 million tonnes and below trade expectations for 212.6 million tonnes.
Wheat is the second most important grain after rice for Japan’s 128 million people, but the country grows only about 10 percent of its needs of around 5.6 million tonnes per year.
The country’s calorie-based food self-sufficiency rate stood at 39 percent, one of the lowest among developed countries.
Japan has been encouraging farmers to grow rice as an alternative to wheat for use by bakeries and pastry makers.
Rice is traditionally the staple food and production is usually in surplus.
The ministry for the first time included rice-origin flour as part of its estimate for local production.
It projected local production of food wheat at 780,000 tonnes in 2012-13, including 50,000 tonnes of rice-origin flour.
Separately, the ministry said it would buy 220,000 tonnes of foreign barley and rye for use in food processing.
The ministry is due to announce its 2012-13 target of feed wheat imports later this week.
Below is a list of foreign food wheat the ministry bought via tenders in 2011-12 and 2010-11 in thousands of tonnes according to its report submitted to the panel.