UPDATE 1-Syria needs up to 200,000 T of wheat imports a month, says minister

(Adds detail, background)

BEIRUT/AMMAN, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Syria needs between 180,000 tonnes and 200,000 tonnes of wheat imports a month, the country's minister of economy and foreign trade said on Sunday.

Mohamed Samer al-Khalil was quoted in al-Watan newspaper as saying the need for imports was as a result of the presence of "militias" that prevent farmers from marketing their wheat to the state.

He said the imports would cost about $400 million but did not clarify a time frame.

In recent months Syrian citizens have spoken of longer queues outside bakeries, where subsidised bread is sold under a ration system using electronic cards.

Syria's economy is collapsing under the weight of a complex, multi-sided conflict now in its tenth year, as well as a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon.

The country's wheat output has fallen dramatically since the start of the conflict. It used to produce 4 million tonnes in a good year and was able to export 1.5 million tonnes.

Syria has produced between 2.1 million and 2.4 million tonnes of wheat this year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.

Demand across the country is about 4 million tonnes, leaving a shortfall to fill through imports. (Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Suleiman Al-Khalidi Editing by David Goodman)

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