April 23, 2018 / 6:50 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-China's barley imports jump as trade spat ruffles grain markets

* Barley imports up 21.8 pct on year

* Sorghum imports fall 21 pct on year

* Sugar imports jump as late cargoes arrive

* Pork imports up 9.6 pct on year (Recasts, adds comment)

BEIJING, April 23 (Reuters) - China imported one of the highest tonnages of barley in years in March, while sorghum arrivals fell by 21 percent, customs data showed on Monday, in a sign that China’s growing trade spat with the United States is roiling grain flows.

China imported 860,000 tonnes of barley in March, up 22 percent on a year ago and the third highest monthly level since at least the start of 2016.

Demand for barley, used in both animal feed and brewing, has risen since China said in early February it would investigate alleged dumping of another feed grain, sorghum, by the United States.

Sorghum imports for the month fell 21 percent year on year to 570,000 tonnes, the data showed, but were still up slightly from February’s 555,713 tonnes.

Both barley and sorghum are used as substitutes for corn in feeding livestock in China, the world’s biggest pork producer.

“People switched to barley in a concentrated way after the probe into sorghum was launched,” a China-based trader said.

“Sorghum imports were low also because prices of U.S. sorghum were not really competitive and the government here was trying to reduce huge stocks of corn,” the trader said.

A second trader said the rise in barley imports was also due to lower global sorghum output, which had driven buyers to seek more of the alternative grain.

Sugar imports also jumped to 380,000 tonnes, their highest level since January 2017, the data showed, and a 26 percent increase on the same month of last year.

The March number was up mainly because of the late arrival of cargoes from Central America that had been expected in prior months, said a China-based trader.

China is replacing some imports from former top supplier Brazil with shipments from countries in Central America that have less sophisticated logistics, slowing their departure from ports.

Pork imports also jumped 9.6 percent year-on-year to 135,930 tonnes, after dipping to just 71,712 tonnes in February. Some shipments may have been stuck at port during the Lunar New Year holiday that month, said an industry source. (Reporting by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu; editing by Richard Pullin)

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