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How U.S. exports are faring in the world wheat market.

In January 1985, a major U.S. grain merchant announced plans to import foreign wheat for processing in the Midwest. Prices for this wheat were below those quoted by any U.S. supplier. While the unprecedented plan was canceled due to strong protests from agricultural interest groups, it provides an extreme example of what many in the U.S. agricultural community claim is a growing problem--the erosion of the U.S. share of the world wheat market. The likelihood of similar incidents in the near future has caused a great deal of concern among export-dependent U.S. wheat farmers, currently burdened with huge excess stocks, and policymakers in the process of preparing the 1985 farm bill.

Although U.S. wheat exports were more than $6 billion in marketing year 1983/84, making up one-sixth of the total value of the Nation's agricultural exports, they had declined over the last 3 years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. From a peak of 48.8 million metric tons in 1981, wheat exports fell 22 percent to 38.1 metric tons in the 1983/84 marketing year. Much of this decline has been attributed to U.S. export pricces, which are above those of other major exporting countries. Significantly, the decline in exports occurred even though U.S. export prices for the five major classes of exported wheat trended downward over the 1980-84 period. (See chart 1.)

The United States relies heavily on exports to maintain the vitality of its wheat industry. Therefore, this article attempts to ascertain the trend of U.S. wheat prices relative to the price trends of other major participants in the world wheat market. Recent international developments are reviewed in terms of the activities of each of the major participants in the world wheat trade--the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and the European Community--with special emphasis on the last 5 years. A simple linear regression model is employed to determine whether a particular country's prices declined relative to U.S. prices at a statistically significant level between 1980 and 1984, and the degree of the decline if present.

The world wheat situation

Of all internationally traded grains, wheat accounts for the largest land area; almost 22 percent of the world's croplands are devoted to its production. Output of wheat worldwide in the 1983/84 marketing year was 490 million metric tons, surpassing records set in the previous 3 years, and amounting to a 40-percent increase since 1975. The People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United States, the European Community, and India, in that order, have led the world in production over the last several years. China, for instance, boosted its production capabilities by over 26 million metric tons between 1980 and 1984. In China and elsewhere, much of the increase in production may be attributed to improved production practices and the active role taken by some governments to improve the international competitiveness of their agricultural sectors.

These efforts to increase production have been met by increased world demand for wheat, with the result that world trade in the commodity has more than doubled since 1960. From slightly over 40 million metric tons in the 1960/61 marketing year, international trade has increased steadily over the last two decades; in 1981/82, more than 100 million metric tons crossed national borders for the first time in history.

Demographic and economic factors mainly account for the significant rise in demand for wheat. For example, there has been rapid growth in both population and disposable income in many importing countries, particularly the petroleum-exporting and middle-income developing countries. Simultaneously, there has been a massive population shift in many of these countries from rural areas to cities. These phenomena have resulted in a greater sophistication about foods and increased demand for staple foods, like bread.

Climatic conditions have also fueled demand for wheat. Over the last 20 years, the nations of central Africa, at one time largely self-sufficient, have faced severe drougts which curbed domestic production and forced them to look beyond their borders to grain to feed their rapidly increasing populations. Weather conditions in the 1970's forced the Soviet Union to import wheat, which significantly increased activity on the world market. Another factor boosting world demand has been the special efforts of several countries, including the United States, over the last 10 years to encourage developing nations to import wheat through food aid programs. For example, the United States, through its Food for Peace program (Public Law 480) provides wheat and other agricultural commodities to developing countries under loan terms considerably more favorable than those prevailing in the commercial market. Additionally, Egypt and Brazil have programs which subsidize imported wheat for consumers.

Another interesting trend in the world wheat market in recent years is the decline in import activity of developed countries and the simultaneous increase in imports by centrally planned economies. European Community (EC) imports dropped by about 44 percent from the early 1970's to the early 1980's, as this group of nations steadily worked toward self-sufficiency. This decline is most marked for marketng years 1979/80 to 1983/84, during which EC imports of wheat fell almost 25 percent. On the other hand, imports by most of the centrally planned economies of Eastern Europe have risen steadily over the last several years. In particular, the Soviet Union increased imports dramatically in the last 5 years, from 12.1 million metric tons to 20.0 million metric tons, or 65 percent. This development was precipiated by poor harvests and the Soviet decision to import grain rather than modify domestic consumption patterns. The import decisions led to trade agreements with the United States and a number of other grain exporting countries. In addition, China entered the world wheat market in the last 5 years as a significant buyer. Imports by that nation increased from 2.2 to 10.0 million metric tons, or by 350 percent, over the last decade, largely because of the normalization of relations with the West.

Another major importer of wheat is Japan. Annual purchases averaged 5.7 million metric tons, 6 percent of the total volume of world wheat imports, for the last 5 years. The rise in Japanese imports was most dramatic in the early 1970's, as income levels in Japan grew and the Japanese began to consume more western-type foods such as bread and noodles. However, imports leveled off over the period 1980-84, rising incomes evidently no longer spurring the demand for wheat.

Export markets for wheat are much more concentrated than import markets. While the four major importers--Japan, China, the Soviet Union, and the European Community--accounted for only 40 percent of all imports in 1984, export markets are almost totally dominated by five producers: The United States, Canada, the European Community, Australia, and Argentina produced 95 percent of all wheat exported in the 1980-84 period.

Over this same 5-year span, two of the three traditional leaders in world wheat exports experienced considerable declines in market share. U.S. exports fell from 43.2 to 37.6 percent of total wheat exports and Australia's share declined from 17.3 to 11.8 percent, while Canada raised its share from 17.4 to 20.2 percent. Meanwhile, Argentina and the European Community, whose exports were considered negligible in the world wheat market before the last 1970's, boosted their market shares from 5.6 percent to 9.3 percent and from 12.0 percent to 15.8 percent, respectively. For marketing year 1984/85, the decline in U.S. market share is forecast to cost the Nation as estimated $900 million in export revenues, and Australia, an estimated $880 million. On the other hand, Canada will gain $450 million, argentina, $596 million, and the European Community, $613 million in increased revenues.

These figures may be better expressed in terms of class-specific markets because, contrary to popular belief, wheat is not a uniform commodity and is identified as belonging to one of several classes, depending on certain product characteristics. Each country tends to specialize in one particular class, with slight variations in characteristics from exporter to exporter. (See table 1.) Class designations are not rigid, however, with hard wheat varieties, including durum, substitutable for other hard wheat varieties, while the soft varieties, including white wheat, may be readily interchangeable with other soft wheat varieties. And, depending upon the use of the wheat, the hard wheats and the low protein and less desirable soft wheats may be substituted for one another. The United States, unlike its major trading partners, exports every class of wheat. Canada, Australia, the European Community, and Argentina each export one predominant class that is in direct competition with one of the U.S. classes, which places the United States in a unique position in the world wheat market.

U.S. performance, 1980-1984

The breadth of its product range means that the United States competes with one or more of the major exporters in every major market and in every class of wheat that it exports. Because each exporting country has attempted both to boost exports to traditional markets and to penetrate growing markets in the developing and centrally planned economies, the position of the United States relative to that of other major exporters changec considerably from 1980 to 1984. The following discussion briefly examines developments over this 5-year period.

Argentina and the United States both are exporters of hard red winter wheat, competing directly in all import markets for that commodity class. The Asia/Oceania/Middle East market is the most important market for these countries, and growth in Argentine exports has far outpaced U.S. gains in this region. (See table 2.) Within the region, China and the soviet Union are the major importers. Both Argentina and the United States have been successful in the growing Chinese market, each increasing exports by well over 100 percent. However, the situation vis-a-vis the Soviet Union has been disappointing for the United States. The Nation's wheat exporters have never totally regained market share lost during the government's 1980-81 grain embargo because other wheat exporters have taken up the slack and added to their market shares as the Soviet Union increased imports. U.S. export sales of hard red winter wheat to the U.S.S.R. declined by almost 6.4 percent between 1980 and 1984, while Argentine sales increased by 79 percent. Argentina has also sought to enhance trade with neighboring Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru in the last 2 years. South American countries, traditionally strong markets for U.S. hard red winter wheat, have increased imports from Argentina and are likely to continue to do so in the near future.

Canada, which almost exclusively exports hard spring wheat that competes with U.S. hard red spring and hard red wnter wheat, has also attempted to increase market share in South America. Millers in Brazil have started to substitute Canadian hard red spring wheat for U.S. hard red winter wheat in the making of bread and noodles. This substitution is largely responsible for the 39-percent increase in Canada's volume of shipments to Brazil over the study period, compared with a mere 3-percent increase in U.S. shipments. (See table 2.) Another area of opportunity for Canadian exporters has been the Asia/Oceania/Middle East market. Canada has been the major vendor of hard red spring wheat to this region, exporting 67 percent of its total 1983/84 volume there, and has made a concerted effort to maintain and expand its share of this market. Over the 1980-84 period, Canada increased its volume of exports to the Soviet Union by 219 percent, and to China by 43 percent. The only major market for U.S. hard red spring wheat in this region is Japan. Even though the United States does not export hard red spring wheat to the Soviet Union, the increased volume of Canadian hard red spring wheat shipments has undoubtedly affected the U.S. sale of hard red winter wheat to the Soviet Union because of the high degree of substitutability between the two types of wheat. Other markets in which the United States and Canada compete have remained stable in terms of market share over the last several years.

The United States exports white wheat on the world market that competes with white wheat from Australia, the world's other major producer of that commodity. No perceptible change in U.S. and Australian market shares occurred in the 1980-84 period except in Africa, where U.S. exports increased 193 percent. (See table 2.) The U.S. exports white wheat primarily to the Asia/Oceania/Middle East region, where no significant changes in the Nation's market share have occurred in recent years. While Australian exports to the region dropped by 27 percent between 1980 and 1984, the displacement came primarily from increased imports of European Community soft wheat, a good substitute for white wheat.

The European Community: a unique case

The European Community, a political and economic organization composed of 10 independent European countries, presents a unique situation in the world wheat market. These countries, while engaging independently in trade in wheat as well as all other products, operate under an agreement called the Common Agricultural Policy, which regulates trade among the member nations as well as with other nations. In adhering to this policy, member countries seek to increase their agricultural productivity, ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, stabilize markets, and assure the availability of supplies at reasonable prices.

To ensure that these objectives are met, all EC member states operate as a single market with identical instruments of market organization and with common management of the market by the Community. The policy provides preference to member countries in all trade transactions in order to protect the internal market from low-price imports and excessive world market fluctuations. The policy was first applied to wheat and other grains in 1962 with the issuance of Regulation 19.

Regulation 19, as amended many times since 1962, is a highly complex mechanism which ensures that internal preference is given to Community wheat and other grains. A simplified description of the system begins with the setting of a "target" price at the beginning of the marketing year, August 1, by the Agricultural Ministers of the Community. This price represents the desired domestic price for wheat according to policy goals. At any time, actual prices may be higher or lower than the target price, depending upon the supply and demand situation. However, if prices fall below a critical price, the Community intervenes to stabilize the market by purchasing wheat at a predetermined "intervention" price which represents a guaranteed floor price for Community producers. To discourage imports of lower-priced wheat from nonmember countries, levies are charged. To determine the levy amount, a "threshold" price is calculated so that the price of the imported wheat at the major consumption centers, including freight and unloading costs, approximates the target price. The amount of the levy, then, is the difference between the threshold price and the import price.

Exports of Community wheat are often subsidized. Exporters are refunded all or part of the difference between the market price in the Community, including freight costs to the port of export, and the actual price on the world market. The determination of the refund amount by the Cereals Management Committee is a judgmental process depending upon the country of destination, the prices and availability of wheat on the Community and world markets, as well as political and other considerations. In addition, "correctives" or premiums may be added to a given refund to account for anticipated developments on world markets.

The policy of subsidizing wheat exports of member countries presents a problem in analyzing price behavior for the European Community. Because many continuously changing variables to determine the amount of the subsidy, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine an actual price for wheat exported by EC members. Generally speaking, however, export prices of Community wheat declined over the 1980-84 period as EC domestic prices fell and the U.S. dollar grew stronger.

While EC price data are not available for analysis, quantity data do provide some basis on which the international trade situations of the United States and the Community can be compared. Production of Community wheat has gradually increased over the last decade, a primary goal of the Common Agricultural Policy. Along with this development, there has been a vigorous effort to expand export markets. Exports of Community wheat increased steadily from slightly over 8.6 million metric tons in the 1975/76 marketing year to almost 16 million metric tons in the 1983/84 year, or by 86 percent. (See chart 2.) Much of the rise can be attributed to an aggressive export policy, including the development of long-term agreements which provide discounts to foreign purchasers of community wheat, and attention to expanding export markets are opposed to developing domestic demand.

Most of the increase in EC exports, 91 percent, has been in the soft wheat class, which competes in most markets with U.S. soft winter wheat. (See table 2.) In recent years, France has led the Community in soft wheat production with approximately 70 percent of total EC wheat exports, followed by West Germany with 10 percent. New or expanded export markets for Community soft wheat have developed mainly in the Soviet Union, China, and algeria. The Soviet Union increased imports of Community soft wheat by more than 3 million metric tons, 494 percent, over the 5-year period 1980-84. Imports by China and Algeria of Community soft wheat rose 41 and 148 percent, respectively. In China and the Soviet Union, the Community did not have a significant market share prior to 1980. Notable, but sporadic, increases also were recorded in EC exports to Egype and Brazil.

China became a significant buyer of both EC and U.S. soft wheat in the 1980/81 marketing year, but this market has contracted greatly since 1981/82 when China began raising domestic production. While the EC increased worldwide market share, its share in China decreased by 2.5 percent between 1980 and 1984. However, the 1982/83 marketing year did see a dramatic increase of 1.3 million metric tons exported by the EC to China, compared with a decline of roughly 3.0 million metric tons for the United States.

While recent years have seen the Soviet Union increasing imports of soft wheat, none of it has come from the United States. Prior to 1980, East European countries imported over a million metric tons of U.S. soft wheat, but this volume had declined 76 percent by 1984. European Community exports to Eastern Europe remained stable in terms of volume over the same period, but there was a considerable increase in EC market share as U.S. volume declined.

The Community's expansion into new and existing export markets is not the only factor influencing U.S. exports of wheat. After the EC achieved self-sufficiency in the late 1970's, its imports of U.S. wheat, mostly hard spring and winter wheats, fell approximately 25 percent through the 1983/84 marketing year. U.S. exports to the Community are projected to decline further in the foreseeable future, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts. The drop reflects the accomplishments of other major goals of the Common Agricultural Policy, namely, the improvement of domestically produced wheats to the point where they are of high enough quality for breadmaking and other routine food production uses, and the adaptation of the milling process to Community soft wheat. The Community now limits its imports to small quantities of very high protein wheat from the United States and Canada and medium protein hard wheats from Argentina. A final factor leading to the decline of U.S. wheat imports by the Community was the suspension in marketing year 1983/84 of a reexport program that had been heavily used by Community flour producers since 1969. This program had allowed Community millers to import foreign wheat without levy and to export an equivalent amount of flour without subsidization.

Regression analysis

Price data for this study were gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a daily basis for the major U.S. wheat classes and for Argentine, Australian, and Canadian wheat classes competing with U.S. classes on the world market. Because of the nature of the European Community's system of export restitution, an accurate price series for exports of EC soft wheat could not be found or confidently calculated. Daily prices for the first week of each month were averaged to arrive at a monthly price used for analysis. Ratios of Argentine, Canadian, and Australian export prices to U.S. prices for comparable classes of wheat were calculated on a monthly basis for a 5-year period beginning in 1980. These prices reflect all transportation and handling costs to dockside (f.o.b. port).

The United States and Australia, in most cases, do not have any one dominating port from which they ship wheat, although the Gulf ports handle most of the traffic in this country. Prices for the particular wheat classes used in this analysis represent weighted averages of the prices at the major ports in the United States and at the western ports in Australia. Canada has two main port areas for wheat, Vancouver on the Pacific coast and Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, which together handled approximately 80 percent of all its wheat exports in 1982/83. Roughly equal amounts of Canadian western red spring wheat departed from these ports in 1984. Because prices vary significantly between these two port areas, they were compared to U.S. prices separately. Argentine prices are determined at the port of Bahia Blanca. The movement of wheat prices for the major foreign exporters relative to those for comparable U.S. wheat classes is shown in chart 3.

These ratio series exhibit much apparently unsystematic variation. To separate the systematic trend in prices from random movement, a linear regression model of the form: was fitted, where Y.sub.t is the dependent variable representing the ratio of foreign price to U.S. price in month t; t is a particular month; [beta].sub.0 and [beta].sub.1 are regression parameters, with [beta].sub.1 representing the trend in foreign prices relative to U.S. prices; and [mu].sub.t represents an error term. When the regression errors were tested for autoregressivity by the Durbin--Watson method, all four ratio series exhibited autoregressive behavior at significant levels. The error term [mu].sub.t was assumed to follow a first-order autoregressive process so that: [mu].sub.t = [epsilon].sub.t - [alpha] [mu].sub.t sub.- sub.1 where [alpha] represents the autoregressive parameter; [mu].sub.t sub.- sub.1 is a lagged error term; and [epsilon].sub.t is normally and independently distributed. In fitting the model, a second-order autoregressive process for the errors was also considered, but the estimated parameter of the second-order term was not significantly different from zero.

The results--summarized in table 3--provide evidence that Argentine and some Canadian prices declined relative to U.S. prices prices over the 1980--84 period. For Argentine wheat, the estimated trend coefficient shows that prices declined at a rate of 4.3 percent over the 5-year period. The trend coefficient is statistically significant at the 1-percent level. Canadian prices for hard red spring wheat at the port of Thunder Bay show a similar trend, falling at a 2.0-percent rate relative to U.S. prices over the same period. On the other hand, the trends for U.S. prices of white wheat and hard red spring wheat at the Pacific ports compared with prices for Australian standard (white) wheat and Canadian red spring wheat at Canadian Pacific ports indicate that Australian and Canadian prices remained well above comparable U.S. prices over the study period. Additionally, U.S. prices for hard red spring wheat at Gulf and Great Lakes ports, for the most part, remained below prices of the substitutable Canadian red spring wheat at Thunder Bay. In the case of the Australian and the latter two Canadian series, the trend appears small and imprecisely measured, and explains little of the variation over time in the relative price variables. The very low values of the coefficient of determination, R.sup.2., for these sets of ratio data reveal a rather weak fit of the sample regression line.

Supply growth, strong dollar

There is evidence that the overall decline in world wheat prices can be partially attributed to a massive growth in supply in the world marketplace over the last sveral years that has outpaced the expansion of demand. Indirect evidence on this point can be drawn from a comparison of the ratio of production of the world's major exporters to their volume of exports. Over the 5-year period immediately preceding 1980, this ratio decreased from 2.17 to 1.81, a 17.0-percent reduction. The greater ratio of growth in exports than in production was associated with rising prices. Over the period 1980--84, however, the ratio increased from 1.81 to 1.92 or by 6.0 percent, indicating a rise in production relative to exports that has been associated with falling prices.

The strong appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the currencies of most of the major importers also helped to depress prices for wheat between marketing years 1979/80 and 1983/84. Wheat is traded on the international market in U.S. dollars. From July 1979 to December 1984, the trade-weighted value of the dollar increased by 44 percent. (See chart 4.)

The effects of the strong U.S. dollar can be clearly identified on a market-specific basis. The real cost of wheat to the importer in terms of the local currency will depend on the relationship of the price movement of a given exporter's wheat and the performance of the importer's currency vis-a-vis the dollar. For example, China's yuan depreciated 71 percent against the dollar between March 1981 and December 1984. Over the same period, Argentina experienced a 42-percent decrease in its f.o.b. port price for hard wheat, Canada, a 22-percent decrease, and the United States, a 15-percent decline. These price drops, in combination with the yuan's depreciation, translated into price increases for Chinese buyers of hard wheat of 34 percent from Canada and 46 percent from the United States. Argentina's hard red winter wheat price showed no change.

While world prices for wheat generally trended downward between 1980 and 1984, individual exporters' prices at the port for a metric ton of wheat often varied rather widely at any given ime. U.S. prices for hard winter wheat exceeded those of Argentina by almost $40 per metric ton in May 1983, and spreads of $20 to $30 per metric ton were not uncommon in 1983 and 1984. (See chart 3.) Australian prices were routinely above U.S. prices with the exception of the period from late 1981 through 1982 when severe weather conditions in Australia produced large quantities of poor quality white wheat which had to be sold at a discount. Canadian prices moved in concert with U.S. prices except in 1980 and 1981, when Canadian prices were much higher, and in 1984, during which Canadian prices (Thunder Bay) tended periodically to fall below U.S. prices for hard spring wheat. The United States has had difficulty in maintaining market share in part because of these trends in its prices relative to those of Argentina and Canada. However, U.S. agricultural policy and other nonprice factors have also played a role.

U.S. policy considerations

Because of its historical role as a worled leader in international trade, the United States, through its agricultural policy, has grealty influenced world wheat supplies and, as a result, prices and market shares. The programs of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a Government-owned and operated organization charged with stabilizing, supporting, and protecting farm income and prices, serve as the instrument through which U.S. policy is implemented. The primary programs of the CCC affecting the U.S. share of the international market have been the CCC loan rate and the Farmer Owned Reserve (FOR). These two programs were developed to benefit domestic producers of wheat and other agricultural commodities but have also had a pervasive effect on the U.S. export situation.

Through the loan program, farmers are advanced a portion of the expected proceeds of their wheat crop, with part of the crop used as collateral. Congress determines the loan rate, stated in dollars per bushel, and varies it periodically to help achieve policy objectives such as supporting farm income. Wheat producers have the option of paying back the borrowed funds or forfeiting equivalent quantities of wheat. Farmers will theoretically exercise the latter option when the price of wheat is at or below the loan rate.

In recent years, the loan rate has continually increased even as the domestic market price has declined. Since the 1982/83 marketing year, the annual U.S. domestic price of wheat has been near or below the loan rate. For example, in 1983/84 the actual market price was $0.12 below the loan rate, or $3.53. As a result, wheat has been diverted from normal market channels into Governmental storage, creating increasingly large stocks of wheat as producers exercise their right of forfeiture to maximize profits.

Because it tends to improve a foreign producer's profitability on wheat production for export, the loan rate's recent increases--almost $2 since 1975--have coincided with increased production by major competitors, making available a greater volume of foreign wheat for export. (See chart 5.) In addition, although wheat is traded on the international market in U.S. dollars, all costs incurred in production are in local currencies. When costs remain stable and the value of the dollar rises, a foreign producer will receive a greater profit in local currency. As the loan rate and the exchange rate of the dollar increased simultaneously, foreign production has been encouraged.

The loan rate also resulted in U.S. wheat being offered at port at prices above those of competitors. The structure of the system technically prevented the price from going below the f.o.b. loan rate, which occasionally discouraged U.S. export sales to the international market. For example, during periods of peak export, Argentine f.o.b. prices have been below the U.S. f.o.b. loan rate price per metric ton, and periodically below the loan rate at farmgate, since 1982/83. As a result, Argentina was able to export all available supplies at prices well below the floor on U.S. prices created by the U.S. loan rate. (See table 4.) for example, in March 1985, when prices for hard winter wheat from Argentina were $115 per metric ton at the port, the loan rate price at farmgate per metric ton was $121--$6 above the Argentine price without taking handling and transportation costs to port into consideration. During marketing years 1982/1983 and 1983/84, Argentina had no difficulty moving its increased production onto the international market. (See chart 5.)

A second CCC program, the Farmer Owned Reserve (FOR), literally pays farmers to hold stocks. The payment occurs when farmers hold wheat stocks for a period of 3 to 5 years, or until a predetermined release price is reached, and takes the form of a storage cost payment of $0.265 per bushel. In addition, the producer receives an initial loan from the Government at very attractive rates, which has encouraged heavy participation in the program.

Two significant developments have resulted from the FOR program in recent years. Until the 1983/84 marketing year, the FOR loan rates were at a premium to the CCC loan rate, resulting in heavy FOR participation by wheat producers. During the 1982/83 marketing year, for instance, the FOR rate was $4 per bushel as opposed to the CCC rate of $3.55. In that year alone, the volume of FOR stocks rose by 500 million bushels to a total of 1.06 billion bushels, an all-time record. (See chart 6.) This development is especially troublesome for the United States, the only nation that stores significant amounts of its excess grain from year to year. As the result of record U.S. harvests of wheat in recent years, this system of reserve stockpiles is currently at extremely high levels. The FOR stocks, however, are not available for export because international prices for wheat have remained below the predetermined release price and the contract period of 3 to 5 years has remained in effect. As a consequence, U.S. wheat supplies actually available for export have periodically been at uncharacteristically low levels. For example, in the 1982/83 marketing year, 70 percent of all ending stocks were committed to the FOR program and were thus unavailable for export. The additional 500 million bushels that entered the reserve in 1982-83 are trapped at least 3 years unless the release price is reached, a situation that is not likely to occur. Such artificial shortages have tended to push up prices for remaining supplies, and U.S. exporters have periodically been forced to bid up prices to obtain the neded volume for export commitments.

Other nonprice effects

Price, while extremely important, is not the only factor in the decisions made by buyers of wheat on the world market. Because of declining prices and the likelihood that supply will continue to grow faster than demand, countries faced with disposing of unsold wheat have reviewed export strategies developed in the seller's market of the 1970's, and have designed new approaches to meet these challenges. As an integral part of their new strategies to maintain and increase market share, the major exporters promote the superiority of their wheat over that of other countries, offer special credit arrangements, and establish trade agreements. These nonprice factors are reviewed here because their influence has probably been quite significant in the decision processes of importers over the last several years. They also help to explain why some countries have maintained or increased their share of the international market in the face of fierce competition.

With the exception of the European Community, all of the wheat exporting countries have attempted to secure a niche in the world market by establishing their marticular product as superior or equal to comparable wheat produced by other countries. This practice is fairly new to some exporters but has become increasingly important in obtaining new customers and maintaining old ones. A country's grading system is the instrument through which it attempts to distinguish its wheat. Particular grades specify wheat of a quality that is best used for certain purposes; for example, top quality wheats are typically used to make bread. The common grading criteria include test weight (yield of flour), moisture content (dry matter), foreign material, hardness (milling properties), and color.

Although all countries' systems measure similar characteristics, they differ in how these measurements determine the actual quality and the adequacy of the system as an indicator of the end use value--how easily wheat is transformed into flour and the quality of the end product. In the United States, the grading system has evolved from merchandising practices, rather than by application of end use criteria. Wheat grades are used in the United States only as a descriptive device for bills of lading, certification for export, and similar purposes. Buyers usually purchase U.S. wheat on the basis of actual samples, with little regard to grade. canada, Argentina, and Australia, however, have based their grading systems on end use value. These systems have been structured to facilitate the movement of wheat onto the export market. Canada, for example, has developed separate grade secifications for exports that are much more stringent than those for domestic grades, and has established the reptation of having the most reliable system and, therefore, wheat of a higher quality. Additionally, both Canada and Argentina clean their wheat prior to sale, thus upgrading the grain to command a premium price. Australia, also using end use value as its main criterion, has a flexible grading system which allows wheat of different lots and within certain protein and quality ranges to be mixed to the specifications of a particular buyer.

As grading systems have evolvd, most major exporters have fine-tuned their systems in order to gain a competitive advantage on the world market. The United States has lagged behind other major exporters in this respect because of its reluctance to develop qualitative grade specifications that stress end use. In addition, other countries tend to cater to buyers' particular needs and desires through the design of their systems. These aspects of Canadian, Argentine, and Australian grading systems undoubtedly influence importers' purchase decisions. However, actual data on trade value gained or lost for this reason are unavailable.

Also entering into buyers' decisions are the several special credit arrangements offered to some extent by every major exporter. These credit arrangements primarily include credit lines, extended payment terms, credit insurance, loan guarantees, and favorable rates, and are provided separately or in combination depending on the trade relationship between the exporting and importing countries. Argentina and Australia, once offering little or no credit, both have developed programs within the last 2 years. Argentina's program entails loaning funds through the regular banking system. While the Astralian government does not provide export credit financing for wheat, it does offer export credit insurance which guarantees a portion of the total payment.

Canada and the United States have used all of the previously mentioned forms of credit. However, the methods by which they are administered and their particular emphases have changed considerably over the years. The Canadian Government most often promotes direct financing and, to a lesser extent, guarantees, while the United States has tended to use credit guarantees in recent years. Of particular interest is the U.S. blended credit program, designed to aid middle-income developing nations in purchasing U.S. wheat. This program was instrumental in maintaining the U.S. market share in eligible countries while noncredit markets decreased by 30 percent between the 1981/82 and 1983/84 marketing years. However, the program was discontinued in March 1985, and U.S. exports are projected to decline as a result.

Another nonprice factor that has become important in the 1980's is the use of trade agreements. In an effort to ensure market share, major exporting countries have pursued these agreements aggressively. Importing countries, and especially the centrally planned and developing nations, often desire agreements to guarantee supplies year to year.

There are three principal types of agreements prevalent in the international wheat market: those for the current marketing year only (supply agreements), those covering a period of years (long-term agreements), and those giving preference to a particular country. Canada, Argentina, Australia, and the United States raised their agreement-related volume of trade by 1, 175, 14, and 16 percent, respectively, between 1979/80 and 1983/84. The small increase in Canada's volume is misleading because over 50 percent of all Canadian wheat exports were already under agreement at the start of the study period. Every major exporting county has an agreement with China, and all except Argentina and Australia have agreements with the Soviet Union for wheat. (However, Argentina does send a large proportion of its total wheat exports to the Soviet Union.)

The United States has not engaged extensively in these agreements, having them only with China and the Soviet Union, while the other major exporters have numerous agreements. However, the United States does export comparable quantities under agreement, although not to the increasingly important secondary markets. The recent growth in trade activity between Argentina and Iran exemplifies the effectiveness of these agreements n securing markets. Prior to the signing of an agreement between Argentina and Iran in March 1983, Argentina exported no wheat to Iran, while the United States had exported approximately 700 thousand metric tons in 1981/82. As a result of the agreement, Argentina exported 1.3 million metric tons of wheat, more than previous U.S. exports, to Iran in the 1983/84 marketing year, and the United States exported none.

Since the U.S. grain embargo of January 1980 to April 1981, the Soviet Union has come to rely heavily on long-term agreements in purchasing foreign wheat. The embargo encouraged the Soviet Union to diversify its sources of supply. As a result, the U.S. share of the Soviet market decreased from 36.5 percent in the 1979/80 marketing year to 20.7 percent in 1983/84. Other exporters, however, realized significant increases. Canada's share increased from 14.9 percent to 28.8 percent and Argentina's rose from 16.7 percent to 18.0 percent, but the EC saw the most dramatic increase--from only 5.6 percent to 20.3 percent--over the same period. The decline in U.S. market share represented a dollar value loss of an estimated $500 million in 1983/84. with the exception of the increase in Argentina's share, most of the lost U.S. market was picked up by other countries under newly established long-term agreements. For instance, after the lifting of the embargo, Canada signed a 5-year agreement with the Soviet Union for 25 million metric tons of wheat and feed grains. This agreement will have increased the annual Soviet commitment to Canada for wheat purchases by more than 50 percent by marketing year

Such influences as trade agreements and credit arrangements work in convert with price in determining a buyer's source of wheat supplies. In addition, political considerations exert formidable influence in the decision process. However, these influences are difficult to examine in a rigorous manner.

WHILE THE APPROACH taken in this analysis is somewhat limited in scope, it does reveal several significant trends in U.S. prices for wheat relative to those of other major exporters. Argentine prices for wheat declined at a rate of approximately 4.3 percent relative to U.S. prices for comparable products over the 1980-84 period. This decline was pronounced in the last 2 years of the study period, during which argentine prices averaged some 12 percent below U.S. prices. Prices for Canadian spring wheat (Thunder Bay) declined relative to prices for the U.S. spring wheat at a rate of 2.0 percent, with Canadian prices moving into proximity with U.S. prices in 1983 and 1984. The relative decline in foreign prices for wheat contributed to a 10-percent loss of U.S. market share between 1982 and 1984. Furthermore, even though price data were unavailable for the European Community, the EC's policy of subsidizing exports, along with its significant gains in market share in the last several years, are prima facie evidence that U.S. products are at a price disadvantage vis-a-vis Community exports. On the other hand, Australian prices for wheat did not decline significantly relative to U.S. prices, and U.S. sales in terms of volume did not fall off in areas where these two countries compete. However, the decline in U.S. market share cannot be completely explained by price, as domestic agricultural policy and the emergence of aggressive new marketing strategies among foreign exporters also appear to have eroded the U.S. competitive position.
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Author:Darr, Todd; Gribbons, Gerry
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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