RABAT - Morocco will suspend customs duty on soft wheat from Nov. 1 until Dec. 31 and will impose a 30 percent duty starting on Jan. 1, 2019, the government's spokesperson said on Friday.
On Thursday, spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi told a news conference that the government council decided to cut duties on soft wheat to 30 percent from Nov. 1 from 135 percent currently.
Khalfi corrected his comments in a statement on Friday saying the suspension of the duty would help maintain the import price of soft wheat at 260 Moroccan dirhams per quintal.
The agriculture ministry had announced on Oct. 1 that Morocco would cancel duties to ensure regular supply, avert price hikes in the domestic market and help farmers better plan reserves.
The ministry then also reported a slow pace in the collection of the local harvest up to October.
Wheat supply is key to Morocco's stability as bread and semolina are staples for the population of about 35 million.
In May Morocco had announced a 135 percent customs duty following exceptional cereals output this year of 10.3 million tonnes, including 4.91 million tonnes of soft wheat, 2.42 million tonnes of hard wheat and 2.92 million of barley.
French wheat exporters estimated Morocco's import needs of soft wheat at 3 million tonnes in the 2018-19 season, they said this month.
On Oct. 1, Morocco's wheat reserves covered 4.3 months of local mills' needs, the agricultural ministry said.
Morocco said in its 2019 draft budget it will spend 17.67 billion dirhams on subsidies of wheat prices along with sugar and cooking gas, up 4.65 billion dirhams compared with this year.
(Reporting by Ahmed El Jechtimi; editing by Ulf Laessing and James Dalgleish) ((Ulf.Laessing@thomsonreuters.com; Twitter @ulflaessing https://twitter.com/ulflaessing))