North Africa: What a Difference a Year Makes

Sleight’s comments followed his return this week from the region, where he had met with importers, end-users and USGC staff to assess the situation in this dynamic part of the world.
The rebound in U.S. sales this year demonstrates the importance of maintaining a strong presence in rapidly evolving regional markets, and being creative as market developers.

“A year ago, North Africa was dropping off the charts in terms of U.S. corn sales,” said U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Tom Sleight. “But this year, Egypt may take more corn (whole grain) than China, and Morocco and Tunisia are again buying U.S. corn.”

For the current marketing year that began Sept. 1, 2013 through May 15, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have taken a combined 2.1 million metric tons (82.7 million bushels) of U.S. corn (accumulated exports plus outstanding sales), compared to nothing over the same period last marketing year.

Sleight’s comments followed his return this week from the region, where he had met with importers, end-users and USGC staff to assess the situation in this dynamic part of the world. The crisis in Ukraine is obviously part of the explanation for the recovery in U.S. sourcing. But other factors are at work as well.

“Ukraine is just part of the story,” Sleight said, “and it’s a temporary factor. We all hope that the crisis in Ukraine gets resolved quickly and constructively. But if you separate the Ukraine, you need to take a fresh look at a part of the world and is stabilizing politically, growing economically and where U.S. coarse grains are competitive. It takes persistence and just plain, ‘being there.’

“As things settle down, there is a greater openness to doing business with the United States. It was also intriguing to meet some regional players interested in the re-export of U.S. corn to West Africa to support local feed and poultry production. The mantra was ‘It’s now or never for Africa,’ and they want to be on the ground floor when things lift off. That’s the kind of partnership the Council has always sought out.”

Black Sea producers will continue to provide strong regional competition, but the rebound in U.S. sales this year demonstrates the importance of maintaining a strong presence in rapidly evolving regional markets, and being creative as market developers.