NEW DELHI: Indian importers have purchased 2.7 million tonnes of wheat from Australia, France and Ukraine so far this fiscal and additional 1.2 million tonnes of grain is expected to arrive by the end of next month.
However, traders have not signed any import deals for wheat delivery beyond March as they are sceptical that the government may reimpose customs duty on the grain when the harvesting of the new crop starts from April 2017.
Last month, the government had brought down wheat import duty to zero from 10 per cent to boost domestic availability and check price rise.
"About 2.7 million tonnes of wheat has been imported so far in 2016-17 from Ukraine, Australia and France. About 1.2 million tonnes of wheat will arrive by February-end," Federation of India Ex-President M K Datta Raj told PTI.
Only 3,00,000 tonnes of wheat was imported last month as shipments could not sail due to severe cold weather in some countries, he said, adding the shipments from Australia are on their way.
A trade source said that flour millers are not contracting wheat beyond March as they are apprehensive that the government may slap customs duty.
Last year too, private flour millers had purchased about 5 lakh tonnes of wheat from Australia for the first time in a decade, due to sluggish supply of domestic high protein wheat and lower international prices.
Wheat is being imported at a lower price than the domestic market. For instance, Ukraine wheat for delivery at Tuticorin is costing Rs 1,670 per quintal and Australian wheat at Rs 1,740 per quintal. Whereas the grain is being sold in Delhi as high as Rs 2,124 per quintal.
Traders said that international prices of wheat, though gone up slightly of late, are still competitive.
More imports are happening as state-run Food Corporation of India has restricted wheat sale to bulk users.
Rising wheat imports and spike in retail prices indicate shortfall in the domestic output in the 2015-16 crop year, but the Agriculture Ministry has maintained production to be 93.50 million tonnes despite drought in over 10 states.
At present, the country is consuming the wheat grown in 2015-16 crop year. The new crop has already been sown and will arrive in the market only in April.