BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. soybean imports into China plunged in March from a year earlier, customs data showed on Wednesday, with weak margins constraining purchases.
China, the world’s biggest importer of soybeans, brought in 3.37 million tonnes last month from the US, up from 7.18 million a year earlier, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
The trend for the year in US shipments has been lower, with imports during the first three months of 2022 down 30% year-on-year to 13.4 million tonnes, according to the data.
Last year’s imports were supported by increased purchases of U.S. agricultural products, including soybeans, following an initial trade deal in January 2020 between the two countries.
US shipments in March last year were further boosted by rain that slowed harvests and exports from Brazil, China’s main grain supplier.
Wednesday’s data showed Brazil’s soybean imports in March were 2.87 million tonnes, up from 315,334 tonnes a year earlier.
China brought in 6.37 million tonnes of the oilseed from Brazil in the first quarter, up 370% from 1.35 million tonnes a year earlier.
Shipping delays after Hurricane Ida in the US cut the export window for American cargo last year. So Chinese buyers, whose appetite was dampened by low crushing margins, cut US imports and waited for the Brazilian harvest.
However, a drought has hit Brazil’s new crop this year, cutting production and delaying some shipments. As Brazilian cargo prices rose, Chinese buyers turned to US soybeans.
The Chinese could buy more from the US for the price advantage, despite the Brazilian cargo export season, traders say.
Weak crushing margins, affected by weak pork margins, continue to weigh on soybean purchases.
Farmers in the main producing province of Sichuan, in the southwest, now lose about 240 yuan ($37.51) on every pig raised, which reduces demand for feed and soybean meal.
China’s hog margins have generally hovered in negative territory since the middle of last year.
(By Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton)
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