MOSCOW - Russia's Agriculture Ministry has proposed to limit grain exports for three months, it said on Friday, prompting concern among traders that the measures by the world's largest wheat exporter could be extended.
In fellow Black Sea exporter Ukraine, the economy ministry on Friday said it was monitoring wheat exports daily and would take measures if needed. Bakers and millers in the country had earlier asked for grain exports to be limited to prevent a surge in bread prices if the spread of the coronavirus accelerates.
The proposal to limit grain exports to 7 million tons for April-June was a response to the Russian government's request this week to consider whether exports of any food should be limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The ministry said that the measure, if approved, would cover the main grain types - wheat, rye, barley and corn - to help to ensure stability in the domestic food market.
The size of the limit doesn't have much bite, traders said, because 7 million tons is more or less the general expectation for Russia's export volumes until the end of the 2019/20 season on June 30.
But the move has raised expectations that further steps might follow, given Russia's history of limiting grain exports in tough times, such as when ruble weakness causes a jump in domestic prices or prospects for the new crop are disappointing.
"It is a symbolic gesture, but a worrying one," one European trader said.
"Is this a first step in moves to reduce exports to preserve Russia's own food supplies amid the coronavirus? This is the worry."
Wheat futures in Paris extended gains and were up 1.8% on Friday after news of the quota proposal.
Russia exported 25.2 million tons of wheat, rye, barley and corn in the July-December period last year. From the start of this year to March 26, Russia's wheat, rye, barley and corn exports totaled 7.2 million tons, the ministry added.