October 23, 2018 / 6:40 AM / a year ago

China grain imports plunge in September amid trade war with U.S., higher prices

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese imports of grains such as sorghum plunged in September from the year before, customs data showed on Tuesday, hit by escalating trade tensions with the United States and high prices elsewhere.

Workers shovel sorghum into a processing machine to make Chinese spirit baijiu at a brewery in Binzhou, Shandong province, China October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Imports of sorghum, largely used in China to feed the country’s massive livestock herd, fell 76.9 percent from the same month last year to 90,000 tonnes, according to the data, dragged down by Chinese tariffs on cargoes of the commodity from key supplier the United States.

Despite that drop, imports of sorghum were higher than expected, said Darin Friedrichs, risk management consultant at INTL FCStone in Shanghai.

“It’s definitely higher than expected given how reliant (China was) before on the U.S.,” he said. Australia likely supplied all of last month’s sorghum imports, he added.

Corn imports for the month came to 40,000 tonnes, down 83.4 percent on-year and the lowest volume since November 2016, the data also showed.

“Chinese buyers bought a lot of corn in the first months of the year and used much of their import quota amid rising domestic corn prices,” said Cherry Zhang, an analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Ltd.

“As for sorghum and barley, global prices were not very attractive, which curbed buying,” Zhang said.

Barley imports fell 27.1 percent to 680,000 tonnes, the data showed.

Meanwhile, pork imports edged up from the previous month to 94,317 tonnes, and were up 8.4 percent on the year.

That comes as China battles to contain African swine fever, a highly contagious disease without a cure or vaccine. It has reported more than 40 outbreaks since August and culled an estimated 200,000 pigs.

China brought in 923,053 tonnes of pork in the first nine months of the year, on a par with last year’s levels, according to the data.

“If the disease keeps spreading, pork imports will likely further go up next year,” said Alice Xuan, analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Ltd.

Sugar imports rose 16.1 percent to 190,000 tonnes in September.

Reporting by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu; Editing by Joseph Radford

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