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China’s December soybean imports surge on year as cargoes clear customs

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s soybean imports in December surged 67% from a year earlier to a 19-month-high, customs data showed on Tuesday, as a flurry of U.S. and Brazilian cargoes booked earlier cleared customs.

FILE PHOTO: Workers stand near a crane unloading sacks of imported soybeans from Russia at Heihe port in Heilongjiang province, China October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

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% from 8.28 million tonnes in November.

“The figures were quite high as some delayed cargoes cleared customs, including U.S. 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 U.S. cargoes in several rounds after being issued with tariff-free waivers in recent months, amid an easing Sino-U.S. trade tensions.

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

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

Chinese importers later resumed purchases of U.S. 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 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 Jan. 15. U.S. 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 an outbreak 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% 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.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh; editing by Richard Pullin

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