By Gus Trompiz
(Reuters) -Farm office FranceAgriMer on Wednesday increased for a second consecutive month its forecast of French soft wheat exports outside the European Union this season, citing strong demand from North Africa.
France, the EU's biggest wheat producer, is now expected to ship 10.6 million tonnes outside the bloc in 2022/23, against 10.3 million forecast in December and 21% above last season's level, the office said.
It had already increased the forecast by 300,000 tonnes last month.
"What is clear is that demand is still significant from the Maghreb, particularly Morocco," Paul Le Bideau, deputy head of FranceAgriMer's grains unit, told reporters.
The competitiveness of French wheat in North African markets had been helped by rising insurance costs for shipping supplies from Russia, the world's biggest wheat exporter, he said.
Market participants consulted by FranceAgriMer had estimates for French non-EU soft wheat exports ranging between 10 and 11 million tonnes, he said, adding there was still much uncertainty over the impact of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.
A busy wheat export programme in France has continued in January, including further loadings for Morocco and Algeria, port data compiled by Refinitiv showed.
FranceAgriMer trimmed its outlook for soft wheat exports within the EU, to 6.64 million tonnes from 6.73 million previously.
It reduced its projection of French soft wheat stocks at the end of the 2022/23 season on June 30 to 2.33 million tonnes, from 2.55 million projected in December.
For barley, the office raised its 2022/23 ending stocks outlook to 1.97 million tonnes from 1.85 million previously.
This reflected reduced expectations for feed use and exports due to uncompetitive barley prices, though the cereal was capturing some new demand from China, Le Bideau said.
For maize, forecast stocks at the end of 2022/23 were raised slightly, to 2.30 million tonnes from 2.23 million, as a reduced outlook for intra-EU exports and upward revisions to harvest supply and imports outweighed an increased forecast for feed use.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Louise Heavens, Kim Coghill and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)