A quality issue relating to India’s first consignment of imported wheat in over six years may have arisen because of different testing methods deployed in various countries, a senior official at State Trade Corp. of India said.

STC is the agency that is importing wheat on behalf of India’s federal government, and it has contracted a purchase of 500,000 metric tons from Australia’s AWB, Ltd. at $178.75 a ton, on a cost and freight basis.

“Since our quarantine and sanitary related testing procedures vary from that of Australia, it seems sample tests may have shown different results,” the official said.

He said the issue relates to the analysis of scientific tests and not poor quality per se.

“We expect it (the quality issue) to be sorted out very soon,” he said.

A delegation from AWB, Ltd. is headed to India after it was reported on the weekend that testing of the cargo returned high pesticide levels, said Peter McBride, an AWB spokesman.

The first cargo of Australian wheat carrying a little over 50,000 tons arrived in the southern port of Chennai.

All such cargoes are inspected at ports by officials from the Plant Protection and Quarantine Department and the Ministry of Health. If they meet India’s quality standards, they are discharged from the ports, the official said.

According to the import tender, the tolerance limit for hydrogen phosphide in the imported wheat has been set at zero. In addition, the wheat must also be from the current 2005-06 crop harvest.

The maximum moisture content has been set at 12%, the tender document said, and the minimum protein content on a dry weight basis should be 10%.

India has also set limits for insecticides and pesticides. Wheat imports should be free of several types of poisonous weeds.

The consignments are to arrive through five southern Indian ports - Mangalore, Chennai, Tuticorin, Visakhapatnam and Cochin by mid-May.

The overall schedule has been delayed slightly, as delivery depends on the availability of ships, the STC official said.

Earlier, it was expected the cargoes would start arriving from the end of March or early April.

“We are not in a hurry to seek deliveries because the imported wheat is only meant to augment buffer stocks and not meet immediate local demand, but the quality should be in line with the norms laid down by us,” he said.

According to the tender, between 250,000 and 300,000 tons of wheat had been scheduled to arrive by the end of April. (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)