An Egyptian farmer using a machine to separate seeds from wheat - Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
By John Irish and Valerie Parent
PARIS, June 4 (Reuters) - France has received formal a request from Egypt for assistance in storing grain and easier payment terms for wheat imports, French official sources said, as the world's largest wheat importer grapples with a prolonged economic crisis.
France, the European Union's top wheat exporter and one of Egypt's leading suppliers, is studying the request and is open to helping Egypt on a vital food security issue, a diplomatic source said.
"We need to make an effort and if the French government has to push this forward it will," a diplomatic source told Reuters on Tuesday.
"It's an urgent matter. It won't be settled within hours but we're not talking either about an agreement in six months."
A source at the foreign trade ministry however said it was too early to say whether France would approve the request.
Two years of political turmoil and economic crisis have eroded Egypt's hard currency reserves, making it difficult for the country to finance essential food and fuel imports.
The Egyptian authorities are expecting a bigger local harvest this year to replenish wheat stocks as part of a plan to phase out imports within four years, but they have also sought assistance from suppliers, notably Russia.
The French diplomatic source said Egypt's request covered three points: assistance in building grain silos in Egypt; the stocking in France of French wheat bought by Egypt for up to six months free of charge, with shipment as and when needed by Egypt; and an extended payment period for wheat sales of nine to 12 months from shipment.
The French finance ministry was now studying with French grain exporting firms a possible response to Egypt's request, the source said.
The request was initially sent several weeks ago to the French embassy in Cairo, and was then discussed last week by the Egyptian ambassador in Paris with France's food industry minister, the source added. (Writing by Gus Trompiz and Muriel Boselli; editing by Veronica Brown and Keiron Henderson)