Soybean imports in China surge as cargoes clear customs

Reuters reports that China's soybean imports in December surged 67 percent from a year earlier to a 19-month-high as a flurry of US and Brazilian cargoes cleared customs.
calendar icon 14 January 2020
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China, the world's top market for soybeans, brought in 9.54 million tonnes of the oilseed, up from 5.72 million tonnes a year earlier, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.

Shipments were also up 15 percent from 8.28 million tonnes in November.

"The figures were quite high as some delayed cargoes cleared customs, including US shipments," said Monica Tu, analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd, a consultancy.

"Chinese buyers also booked quite a lot of South American beans, which arrived en masse," Tu said.

For the whole year, soybean imports came in at 88.51 million tonnes, just up from 88.03 million tonnes in 2018, when higher tariffs curbed shipments from the United States.

Chinese buyers have booked US cargoes in several rounds after being issued with tariff-free waivers in recent months, amid an easing Sino-US trade tensions.

Importers also ramped up Brazilian beans due to good prices, and lingering trade uncertainty.

China traditionally sources US soybeans in the fourth quarter of the year when US produce dominates the market. But American cargoes plunged after Beijing slapped hefty tariffs in 2018 on a list of US goods including soybeans in a tit-for-tat trade war.

Chinese importers later resumed purchases of US beans during a truce in the trade war and after Beijing issued extra tariff-free waivers for some American shipments.

China customs vice minister Zou Zhiwu noted on Tuesday (14 January) that soybean and pork imports had rebounded significantly in December.

China and the United States have agreed an initial, or Phase 1, trade deal, which is expected to be signed on 15 January. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday he expected China to buy $40 billion to $50 billion of agricultural products under the deal.

Analysts expect that soybeans, China's biggest agricultural import from the United States, would make up a big part of any such purchases.

China's demand for soybeans has been affected by the outbreaks of deadly African swine fever that slashed the country's massive pig herd and curbed demand for soymeal, used as an ingredient in feed.

However, China's pig inventories have started to rise, the government said this month, after falling by more than 40 percent due to the disease.

Demand for soymeal was predicted to keep increasing thanks to a recovery in pig production, China's agriculture ministry said in its monthly report on Friday.

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