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China's soybean imports slide after shipment delays from Brazil

Customs data shows China's April soybean imports fell 12 percent from a year earlier, with analysts citing the impact of bad weather delaying cargoes from top supplier Brazil.

8 May 2020, at 9:31am

China, the world's top soybean buyer, brought in 6.714 million tonnes of the oilseed in April, down from 7.64 million tonnes a year ago, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.

Rains in late February held back the harvest and exports in Brazil, leading to record-low levels of soybeans and soymeal in China, which uses the commodity to feed its massive livestock sector, as well as in cooking oil.

Some crushers had to curb operations, while state stockpiler Sinograin released soybeans from reserves to state-owned crusher China Oil and Foodstuffs Corp (COFCO).

"Arrivals in April were a bit lower than (the) market estimate," said Monica Tu, analyst with consultancy Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd.

"The fall was still due to slow loading in Brazil earlier, which only started to speed up in the second half of March."

China was also expected to step up purchases of soybeans from the United States this year, to fulfil commitments under a trade deal they signed in January. Chinese crushers booked another 378,000 tonnes of US soybeans in the latest round of buying.

But the volume of US cargoes might not rise significantly in short term, as buyers have mostly covered the near months with Brazilian beans, analysts said.

"May was pretty much full, but it would be another story if there is purchase for non-commercial use," said Tu.

April imports rose from 4.28 million tonnes in March, when shipments were also hit by cargo delays and disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first four months of 2020, China imported 24.51 million tonnes of soybeans, customs said.

Supply shortages started to ease at China's southern ports in the second half of April as more cargoes began to arrive with improving weather conditions in Brazil.

A large volume of beans was expected to land in May and June, with the number of shipments leaving Brazil in March at a record high. The sea voyage takes about 40 days.

"We should expect May (soybean imports) to be large," said Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at broker INTL FC Stone.

"Most of the April weekly arrivals were about 1.5 million tonnes, but near the end of the month the large-scale new crop Brazilian shipments really started to arrive."

China's national weekly soybean stocks rose to 4.26 million tonnes by 6 May, up from 3.31 million tonnes in late March, the lowest since at least 2010.

Weekly soymeal inventories were at 185,500 tonnes by 6 May, after hitting a record low on 19 April.

China's soybean demand has been curbed by the deadly African swine fever disease, which cut the pig herd by at least 40 percent. The herd is starting to recover as farmers restock, supported by high profits and government measures to boost output.