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Wheat congestion at India ports eases, delays remain
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Heavy congestion at key Indian ports that has led to delays in delivering imported wheat to markets is easing gradually, a senior government official said on Wednesday, but traders insisted major bottlenecks remain.

The import of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat this year has put further pressure on ports already burdened with large fertiliser arrivals and exports of soymeal.

A government official said about 50,000 tonnes of backed up wheat had been cleared in the past month from the two western ports of Mundra and Kandla, and around 350,000 tonnes still on the docks were being tackled.

"An operational plan is in place and the rest of the stocks at the two ports will be cleared by mid-March," he said.

But traders said things were far from normal, with a decision to prioritise wheat deliveries causing problems elsewhere.

"Congestion is still there and ships are facing 10 to 15 day waiting times at the ports," said one trader in Indore, the country's soy trade hub. "This does not happen normally."

About 400,000 of wheat imports had piled up at the two large ports in October due to a shortage of rail wagons and labourers. State-run Food Corp. of India sought more manpower and containers to quickly move out the stocks.

India has agreed to buy 5.5 million tonnes wheat this year to shore up depleted buffer stocks and curb a rise in prices.

Higher prices have lured farmers to grow more wheat.

The farm ministry this week said wheat for the summer harvest was sown over 7.0 million hectares between Nov. 1-17 against 4.9 million hectares during the year ago period.

India grows only one wheat crop in a year with sowing in the winter months of November and December, and harvests from March.

"The government's decision to give priority to the movement of imported wheat over fertiliser will soften prices as there will be enough wheat in the market," said Shardul Sharma, an analyst with Share Khan Commodities, a domestic brokerage.

Sharma said while the movement of wheat had improved, soymeal for export had started building up at the two ports.

"If the congestion is cleared soon, the delay will be nothing but a blip. But a prolonged clogging will go against the interests of Indian soymeal exporters," he said.

India has signed for the export of about 400,000 tonnes of soymeal in October, when the new harvesting season began.

Peak season soymeal exports have been hit by the port congestion with some firms forced to pay penalties for late shipments, traders said.
MGR Archive 23.11.2006
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