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French exporters see Morocco's soft wheat imports at 5 mln T in 2023

RABAT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Morocco's imports of soft wheat are expected to stand at between 4.5 million and 5 million tonnes next year due to drought, the Maghreb region head at France's wheat professionals group Intercereales Yann Lebeau said.

France alone has exported over 1 million tonnes of soft wheat to Morocco this summer, and is expected to have sold up to 2.5 million tonnes to the North African country by the end of the year, said Lebeau.

He was speaking ahead of the annual Intercereals meeting with Moroccan traders in Casablanca next month.

Drought has slashed Morocco's 2022 cereals harvest by 67% to 3.4 million tonnes, including 1.89 million tonnes of soft wheat, the main staple in the country.

Over the past decade, Morocco has averaged imports of 3 million tonnes a year of soft wheat.

Two Moroccan industry sources said soft wheat reserves now cover 5 months of Morocco's needs but added that efforts to build additional stockpiles were put off by higher prices in the international market compared to 2021 levels.

Morocco's soft wheat import bill doubled in the first seven months this year to $1.6 billion compared to the same period last year, according to foreign exchange data.

Higher wheat prices propelled the government to double the subsidies budget to 32 billion dirhams this year, from the 16 billion dirhams that was budgeted earlier.

Besides soft wheat, Morocco controls the prices of sugar and cooking gas.

To keep flour prices stable, Morocco maintained the suspension of the customs duty on soft wheat, a decision traders expect to last as long as prices remain high.

The worst drought in about three decades has contributed to slashing Morocco's growth forecast to 1.5% this year according to the government, from 7.9% in 2021.

The government has based its 2023 draft budget on a growth forecast of 4.5%, assuming average rainfall and a cereals harvest of 7.5 million tonnes. (Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, editing by Angus McDowall and David Evans)

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