Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Last week, Nigeria’s President said he was “taking [the] focus on agriculture to the next level” as he banned the central bank from giving foreign exchange to all food importers. This policy started in 2015 when the President came to power and blocked foreign exchange access for 41 items, including rice, which was then extended to dairy products in July. An analysis by the BBC argues there is a lack of reliable data to assess the success of the policy but it did lead to domestic rice production increasing to 8.9 million mt in 2018, from stagnating around 7.1 million mt in the 2013-17 period. However, the policy also pushed domestic prices up and caused a surge in smuggling. Commentators argue that the idea is not a bad one but it needs to be accompanied by other measures, such as assisting farmers to increase yields. 

Farmers in the UK are facing a different kind of pressure – a target of net-zero emissions by 2040. They have placed their bets on several technologies, including battery-powered precision robots that would simultaneously reduce diesel used in tractors and allow targeted pesticides use. Keeping grass fed cows outdoors – instead of soybean fed livestock indoors – will also help reduce emissions while lowering soybean demand. 

In India, too, the Prime Minister has appealed to farmers to reduce their use of pesticides on crops by 10-25%, saying chemicals were hurting “Mother Earth.” He said that the government would soon launch a campaign aimed at ending the use of chemical fertilisers completely while sticking to its commitment to double farm income. However, the FICCI pointed out that Indians use 0.27kg/ha of chemicals, compared with 4.58kg/ha in the US. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) rule requiring all ships to switch to low-sulfur fuel from January 1, 2020, could be a game changer for wheat trade flows. The analysis by Platts quoted traders as saying that it was easy for big buyers, such as Indonesia, to switch between Australian, Black Sea and Argentinian origins as the quality was almost at par. As such, freight costs were usually the determining factor. The IMO2020 rules will make freight more expensive which means that Australia, which recently lost market share to the Black Sea, could become more competitive in Asia again. 

Another environmental concern that could affect tradeflow is the fate of the EU-Mercosur trade deal. Analysts warned that the Brazilian President’s stand on the environment – and notably his recent denial of deforestation data – could push some countries such as France not to ratify the deal. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said it had tracked 72,843 fires in Brazil so far this year, including half of them in the Amazon region, an increase of 80% on year. Environmentalists have blamed the President’s policies on the increasing deforestation, while he, in turn, accused NGOs of starting the fires as part of a media campaign against him.

At the same time, Brazil is focusing strongly on China. The Brazilian delegation which recently went there came back with a USD 1.5 billion coffee deal. The Santa Monica group will be setting up to roasters in the country, distributing some 100,000 coffee vending machines and eventually open a series of coffee shops.  

After a successful pilot project in the US, Coca-Cola is rolling out on a national scale its Dasani PureFill water dispenser line. This is part of a move towards “package-free delivery at scale” as well as part of its commitment to scrap 1 billion virgin PET plastic bottles from its supply chain. The group will also start selling its Dasani water in aluminium cans and bottles, also in abid to reduce plastic use. 

Similarly, Nestle Waters North America launched an Instagram #NotTrash campaign to encourage consumers to ask, via the social media platform, if they need help to figure out how to recycle its Poland Spring bottled-water products. The company explained that consumers tend to be confused about recycling, which explains why only 30% of plastic bottles are recycled in the US. 

Bunge CEO said the company was focusing on improving risk management through better coordination with the commercial team and by doing more analysis. The company, which just moved headquarters from New York’s White Plains to Saint Louis in Missouri, is aiming to have completed its “portfolio transformation and optimization work” by the middle of next year. 

Meanwhile, data analysed by Bloomberg showed that the 125 family members who own Cargill received a USD 643 million payout this year, the highest since 2010 and over USD 5 million each. Some say that this will likely postpone any potential plan of going public despite diluting shares over time. Based on the share value of its publicly traded competitors, Cargill could be worth an estimated USD 50 billion. 

Last but not least, and we bet you didn’t see this coming, a global survey found that the UK has the healthiest packaged foods and drinks in the world, followed by the US and Australia. What is less surprising is that the survey also found that the poorest countries had the unhealthiest packaged foods.

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