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Soviet Official Says USSR Wants to at Least Double Soybean, Oilseed Imports

May 23, 1990

AMES, Iowa (AP) _ The Soviet Union wants to eliminate wheat imports and intends to more than double purchases of soybeans while cutting back on corn, a top Soviet agriculture official says.

But Ivan Skiba did not give a timetable for what would be a drastic shift in grain trade and he also said the Soviet Union would stick to its grain purchase agreements.

One such accord, slated to be signed at the June summit between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, would increase minimum Soviet grain purchases from the United States by more than 11 percent over each of the next five years.

Skiba, who is chief of the agrarian department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, discussed grain imports Tuesday in response to reporters’ questions at a symposium at Iowa State University.

He also said ″there may be grounds″ behind reports the Soviet Union has made late payments to suppliers but said he believed the problem was temporary.

″We do pay our bills. We don’t borrow from Peter to pay Paul,″ Skiba said through an interpreter.

He said that to meet new requirements for increased protein in animal feed, purchases of soybeans and other oilseeds on world markets would have to rise to 8 million to 10 million metric tons a year from the current 3 million to 4 million.

Skiba said the shift in grain procurement policy would mean smaller purchases of corn, the leading feed for livestock. He also said the Soviet Union ″wants to do away with buying wheat.″

″Theoretically we can satisfy our domestic demand″ for wheat, he said.

Skiba’s comments came in response to questions on recent record Soviet grain purchases from the United States and reports of criticism within the Communist Party that such spending is using up limited USSR reserves of hard currency.

Hard currency has become scarce in the Soviet Union because of falling world prices for oil and natural gas, two commodities the Soviets have relied on to help finance their foreign purchases.

In the 12 months ended June 30, 1989, the USSR bought 15.5 million metric tons of wheat from all world sources and 18.6 million tons of corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. share was 4.6 million tons of wheat and 16.8 million tons of corn.

The U.S. grain purchases were a record. Skiba said some of that could be attributed to weather problems that reduced wheat production in the Soviet Union.

Under a previously announced grain agreement to be signed with the United States, annual minimum American grain shipments to the Soviets would rise to 10 million metric tons from 9 million. A metric ton is approximately 2,205 pounds.

Under the agreement, the USSR will be committed to buying at least 4 million tons each year of wheat and feed grains. In any one year, the Soviets may substitute up to 750,000 tons of one commodity for the other. The agreement for the first time includes sorghum and barley as well as corn under the definition of feed grains.

The additional purchases under the agreement could be made up of wheat, feed grains, soybeans or soybean meal.

The accord also will allow the Soviets to buy up to 14 million tons of grain annually without further discussion with Washington. The pact it replaces had an automatic limit of 12 million tons.

But Skiba said that as the Soviet Union moves to introduce private farms and improve farm productivity it needs to prod farmers by reducing imports.

He said relying on imports has caused the Soviets to become ″couch potatoes″ when it comes to productivity.

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