World food import bill to fall to five-year low

Food prices continue to decline in April amid large commodity supply levels.

International prices for agricultural commodities continued to decline in April and abundant inventories are poised to offset any pressure from the slight reduction in global harvests expected this year, according to the latest forecasts in FAO's biannual Food Outlook report published today.

The report forecasted worldwide cereal production will likely decline by 1.5% from last year's record-breaking output, mainly due to reduced acreage planted with maize. But, the impact will be cushioned by "exceptionally high" levels of existing stocks, the report noted.

FAO's first forecast for global cereal production in 2015, assuming normal weather conditions for the remainder of the season, amounts to 2.509 billion metric tons, a slight decrease from last year's record but nearly 5% above the average of the past five years.

The modest decline in output would require running inventories down by around 3% in the new season (2015/16), with faster drawdowns for coarse grains and rice than for wheat.

"The world food import bill is forecast to reach a five-year low in 2015", the report said, mainly driven by a decline in international prices, low freight rates and a strong U.S. dollar. Import volumes of the various food components of the bill were little changed or even rising. Low income countries were also expected to benefit from lower import bills.

Falling prices

FAO's Food Price Index declined 1.2% in April from March, reaching 171 points, its lowest level since June 2010 and 19.2% less than a year ago.

Dairy prices fell the most, but sugar, cereals and vegetable oils prices also declined. By contrast, meat values rose in April, their first increase since August 2014.

International food prices were likely to stay under downward pressure due to large supplies and a strong U.S. dollar, according to the Food Outlook, which noted that "currency movements and macroeconomic developments may have important implications for markets again in 2015-16."

Commodity market trends and outlook

Several years of solid harvests and stockpiling mean most basic food commodities are in surplus, according to the report. As a result, FAO said the projected drop in cereals output is not expected to impact availability of food for consumption.

Dairy production trends were poised for further steady growth of around 2% in 2015, with lower international prices buoying imports in Africa. FAO said the abolition of the European Union's milk quota system is likely to boost output and was one of the main drivers of the 6.7% monthly drop in the Dairy Price Index.

Sugar production was expected to increase only slightly - driven by India, the European Union and Australia - but still surpass consumption for the fifth consecutive season.

Bumper soybean crops will drive a strong 5.7% increase in total oil-crop production in 2014/15 season, the report noted. That, coupled with sliding prices linked to more tepid demand from the biofuels sector and surging inventories, may lead to reduced output in the coming season, according to FAO.

Worldwide production of beef was expected to grow only 0.2% in the coming year, while output of all meat grows by 1.3%.

The report noted fish was increasingly popular in the global diet, buoyed by fast growth in the aquaculture sector, which was expected to expand by 5% percent in the year ahead. Wild fish catch was also expected to rebound after last year's shortfall inked to the El Nino weather complex. That recovery will foster rapid growth in the usage of wild fish catches as feed for aquaculture.

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