China buys Argentina sorghum amid U.S., Australia trade disputes - sources

BEIJING/BUENOS AIRES, June 10 (Reuters) - China has accelerated sorghum imports from Argentina, according to sources and shipping data, as buyers diversify their sources of grain imports amid trade disputes with major suppliers Australia and the United States.

Importers booked at least two cargoes of sorghum from the South American nation that are expected to arrive at Chinese ports starting in July, according to two sources briefed on the deals.

The purchases, totalling at least 80,000 tonnes, would raise shipments from Argentina to more than 110,000 tonnes, near to exports for all of 2019.

Shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon shows the Euripides Graecia carrying 40,000 tonnes of sorghum is booked to arrive in China on July 1 after loading at the Argentinian port of Rosario.

China has bought 32,716 tonnes of sorghum from Argentina in the first four months of 2020. Shipments were 139,564 tonnes in 2019, up from 1,045 tonnes in 2018.

“It could be just spot business, but it is a trend worth watching out for, as Chinese importers look for alternative origins for grains,” said one of the sources, who asked to remain unidentified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The shipments follow China’s imposition of hefty tariffs on imports of Australian barley, an alternative to sorghum as a feed ingredient, late in May after an 18-month investigation.

Increasing tensions between Beijing and Washington threatened to derail their Phase 1 trade deal signed in January, under which China pledged to step up purchases of U.S. farm produce, including sorghum and soybeans.

“Traders have bought a lot of U.S. sorghum lately, but with the current situation, everyone is more prudent, and wanted to supplement with other origins,” said the second source.

China has booked at least three cargoes of Argentinian sorghum for delivery later this year, the source said.

Chinese imports of U.S. sorghum were 783,393 tonnes in the first four months of 2020, making up 95% of all imports. (Reporting by Hallie Gu In Beijing and Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires; Editing by Shivani Singh and Christian Schmollinger)