Turkey’s nitrate ban sends shockwaves across fertilizer market

10 June 2016 14:17 Source:ICIS News

Focus article by Deepika Thapliyal

LONDON (ICIS)--Participants in the fertilizer market are still reeling days after a ban was imposed by Turkey on all fertilizers containing nitrates, with many calling the move a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the government.

"I am mad about the decision. This means no import as well, at least till further notice. For ammonium nitrate, I can understand the ban [AN is explosive]. But for calcium ammonium nitrate and potassium nitrate, they [the ministry] really do not know what they have done," a Turkish supplier said.

On 8 June, the Ministry Of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Interior (security affairs) banned the sale or distribution of ammonium nitrate (AN), calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and potassium nitrate with immediate effect.

The move comes following several car bomb attacks in Turkey this year amid fears AN can be used to make explosives. There is confusion surrounding the ban on CAN since it is not an explosive.

What has upset the industry in Turkey and outside is that the ban was introduced out of the blue without any consultations. The government has banned all fertilizers containing nitrates without determining if the fertilizer is explosive or not.

The annual market for AN and CAN in Turkey is around 2m tonnes. The country also has a large domestic industry based on AN and CAN fertilizers. As for potassium nitrate, Turkey has no production domestically. It imports potassium nitrate from Israel or Jordan.

AN IMPORTS TO HALT

The government did not elaborate if exports or imports of AN and CAN will also be banned, but it is unlikely these will take place given the ban on movement of product in the country.

Global AN and CAN producers are concerned given that Turkey is one of the biggest nitrates importers in the world. It imports 400,000-800,000 tonnes/year of AN depending on the demand during the year.

"The ban is not good news, a good market is now out of the game," said a Russian nitrates supplier.

For now, nitrates deliveries from factories and all importers/local warehouses are blocked. Security forces are heard to have temporarily seized 64,000 tonnes of fertilizers containing nitrate from retailers.

TEMPORARY BAN?

Some others are more optimistic and hope the ban is temporary.

"The whole thing will not last long. The government rather wants to establish a tracking system of AN movements. Besides that, the ban was also on CAN which is absurd as this product is safe," a global fertilizer trader said.

The government is tightening controls on the movement of fertilizers, including installing a chip in one of every 200-300 fertilizer bags to track them and auditing the importers’ delivery sites. There has also been mention of drones for tracking fertilizer bags but it is not clear if these measures will work given the high costs attached to them.

A more plausible outcome may be that the government may eventually allow sales of stabilised granular AN, which does not have a detonation risk. This is in line with a similar directive in Peru.

IMPACT ON BUSINESS

Nitrates producers in Turkey such as BAGFAS, Gemlik and Toros are understood to have stopped AN production this week but are continuing to produce CAN. This is because the ban on CAN is expected to be lifted soon as it is not explosive.

"So far they (Turkish nitrates producers) could not tell how this will affect their production, but again, they were fairly optimistic that it will not be heavy," the global trader said.

Global nitrogen suppliers, that are already reeling from lower margins due to an oversupply in the market, are also bound to feel the repercussions of one less market to sell to if the ban is not lifted.

"The market has gone quiet after Turkish news. People are trying to understand what it means and what the next move is. Buyers have also stepped back," an eastern European AN producer said.

There are expectations that farmers in Turkey may switch to urea from AN if the ban stays and this may help nitrogen producers offset some of their losses on AN sales as producers usually manufacture both urea and AN. However, it is too early to say if this will indeed happen.

All eyes are now on a meeting between Turkish nitrates producers and the agriculture ministry next week. Especially when the fate of several plants such as Bagfas, which recently completed a $150m nitrates plant expansion, hangs in balance.

By Deepika Thapliyal