Brazil grabs bigger share of China soybean imports from U.S. in January - customs

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s imports of soybeans from the United States in January fell 14 percent from the same month a year ago, customs data showed, as Brazil grabbed a larger slice of the world’s biggest market for the oilseed with higher-protein beans.

According to customs data released on Saturday, China imported 5.82 million tonnes of soybeans from the United States in January, equal to 67 percent of all imports. Last year, U.S. beans accounted for 88.5 percent of the January total.

The drop underlines concerns about a slide in U.S. sales to the world’s top soybean buyer because of declining protein levels in U.S. soybeans, allowing Brazil to lure customers with its own higher-protein crop.

It also comes amid a growing trade spat between the United States and China, the world’s top two economies, after Washington slapped tariffs on imports of solar panels and washing machines earlier this year.

In what is regarded as retaliation for that move, Beijing earlier this month launched a probe into U.S. sorghum imports, stirring concerns that the government may consider other steps that could hurt sales of soybeans and other crops.

Brazil sold 2.07 million tonnes of beans to China in January, up 720 percent from a year ago and equivalent to just under a quarter of the total. The South American nation accounted for just 3.3 percent of the January 2017 total.

Its share of soybean exports to China grew to the largest on record in 2017 and looks set to expand again this year, helped by competitive prices as well as the high protein content of its beans.

China also imported 560,415 tonnes of U.S. sorghum in January, the vast majority of total imports, the data showed. [GRA/CN]

Australia shipped 2,942 tonnes and Myanmar sent in the remaining 1,160 tonnes.

China is the world’s top importer of sorghum, which it feeds to its huge livestock sector. The threat of potential import penalties from the Chinese government’s probe is expected to substantially curb demand for the upcoming U.S. crop.

Reporting by Dominique Patton, Josephine Mason and Pei Li; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Jacqueline Wong