Saudi Arabia wants Russian wheat

Wheat harvesting at the fields of CJSC Irtyshskoe in the Omsk Region. © Alexey Malgavko
Riyadh is interested in buying more grain from Russia, including wheat, says the Russian agriculture watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor.

According to the watchdog, the Saudi Arabia Grains Organization showed interest in Russian grain during a meeting in October. A Russian delegation visited Saudi Arabia in June to discuss a possible deal that would make the kingdom's grain imports more diversified.

"The Saudi side has expressed an interest in importing Russian wheat, soybeans, sunflower and fodder grain. This is in addition to the traditional imports of barley," said the watchdog in a statement.

Saudi Arabia promised it will not create any hurdles for Russian wheat imports, and that all countries have an equal opportunity to enter the Saudi market.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia was the biggest importer of Russian grain with a 28 percent share of exports, bigger than Turkey (25 percent) and Iran (12 percent).

However, the kingdom imports its wheat mostly from the EU, North America, South America and Australia. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), wheat is an important item in the Saudi diet. Wheat is used for bread, local hamburger buns known as ‘Samoli’ and other western-style bread such as French baguettes and pizza.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia produces very little wheat itself, and has recently ended its domestic wheat production program. Only a very small number of Saudi farmers are expected to continue wheat production after the program ends.

The USDA ranks Russia as the world's leading wheat exporter, projecting the country will export 30 million tons in the 2016/17 agricultural year. US exports are estimated at 26.5 million tons, while the EU and Canada were due to export 25 and 22 million tons, respectively.