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CAIRO, March 29 (Reuters) - Egypt will not ban the private sector from importing wheat while it buys up the local harvest, the supply ministry said on Wednesday, appearing to backtrack on what its minister said earlier this week.
Instead of a blanket ban on private sector imports during the local procurement season, the ministry will instead closely monitor the movement of grain, a ministry spokesman said.
"The wheat will be carefully tracked from the ports but it is not a ban," he said.
Egypt has been tightening up on its policing of the wheat market in an effort to prevent fraud.
More than 2 million of Egypt's 5 million tonnes of wheat bought by the government last year may have existed only on paper, according to grain industry experts and lawmakers who investigated the matter.
Egypt said earlier this week that state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), would continue to import wheat from abroad during its local buying season, set to run from April 15 to July 15, in an effort to increase its strategic reserves.
But Supply Minister Ali Moselhy said that private sector imports would be banned during this period, leading confused traders to question how such a ban could be implemented and vexing private millers who wondered how they would get grain.
Moselhy has said that Egypt expects to buy about 4.5 million tonnes of wheat from local farmers this year.
In previous years GASC has typically slowed or stopped completely the tendering of foreign supplies during the local buying season.
GASC however has been making larger than usual purchases from foreign grain suppliers in recent months amid high demand for state-subsidised bread.
Its season total of 5.6 million tonnes of contracted wheat for 2016-17 is nearly 25 percent up on the previous year. (Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Greg Mahlich)