Iran has stepped up soymeal purchases from India, taking up to 275,000 tonnes in recent deals at record prices as the nation fights Western sanctions that have reduced its ability to source food from other origins.
Global soymeal prices have also been driven up by tightening supplies following a drought in South America and expectations of lower soybean plantings in the United States.
The benchmark US soymeal futures this week climbed to highest since August 2009, to around $396.6 a short tonne.
Indian exporters are negotiating more deals and there are expectations that soymeal contracts for another 200,000 to 250,000 tonnes will be signed in the coming weeks, trade sources in Singapore and New Delhi said on Friday.
"The Iranian situation is such that they can't buy from any other part of the world," said one Singapore-based trader.
"So they are paying through the nose for Indian meal." Iran's government is expected to start buying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of feed grains as Western sanctions are causing enormous disruption to the financing of Iran's imports, traders said on Thursday.
Iranian farmers face a shortage of feed for their huge livestock flocks as private-sector grain importers are unable to arrange payments, traders said.
Though food shipments are not targeted under the Western sanctions aimed at Iran's disputed nuclear programme, financial measures have frozen Iranian firms out of much of the global banking system, hindering grain buying.
The Iranian government, which had bought more than 2 million tonnes of bread-making wheat recently, is now poised to make substantial feed grain deals.
Iran's imports of soybeans, soymeal and soyoil are being sharply reduced by the sanctions imposed on the country over its nuclear programme by the US and European Union, Hamburg-based oilseeds analysts Oil World said last week.
PREMIUM SPIKES As a result of Iranian purchases, the premium of Indian soymeal to rival South American cargoes has widened to at least $40 a tonne in Southeast Asia.
Typically, Indian soymeal is quoted $10 to $15 below Latin American cargoes to win business in some of its top markets such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea.
"Indian meal is now out of reach for most buyers in Asia because of the Iranian demand," said another Singapore trader.
"Indian soymeal is more expensive on FOB basis than what it costs to get Argentine meal delivered into Asia."
Traders said some of the recent deals for Indian soymeal were signed by Iranian buyers at $505 to $510 a tonne, FOB, compared with $495 being quoted for South American cargoes, including cost and freight, into Southeast Asia.
India has already shipped out about 175,000 to 200,000 tonnes, the head of a Mumbai-based export firm said.
The soymeal cargoes are scheduled to be shipped to Iran from April to June.
Iran is estimated to import 1.8 million tonnes of soymeal in 2011/12, up from 1.7 million shipped a year ago, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
"Despite domestic demand being healthy and good realisation from the local market, traders are busy signing deals with buyers in Iran to make the best of it," said Rajesh Agrawal, co-ordinator at Soybean Processors Association of India.
"In the next couple of month, exports could be 100,000 tonnes a month."