BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s soybean imports fell 24% in May from the same month last year, customs data showed on Monday, as the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war and deadly African swine fever checked demand.
China brought in 7.36 million tonnes of soybeans in May, down from 9.69 million tonnes last year, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. The May figure was also down from 7.64 million tonnes in April, when shipments had jumped as buyers delayed cargoes on a tax change.
China imported 31.75 million tonnes in the first five months of 2019, down 12.2% from the same period last year, as higher tariffs on shipments from the United States, China’s second-largest supplier of soybeans, curbed buying.
“Soybean imports were lower as the higher tariffs on U.S. shipments continued to weigh. And demand is weak due to African swine fever. Shipments from Brazil also dropped a lot,” said Xie Huilan, an analyst with Cofeed, an agribusiness research firm.
China slapped a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans last July as part of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies, bringing imports of U.S. beans to a virtual halt until the two countries agreed to a trade truce on Dec. 1. China has bought about 14 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans since then.
But Beijing again stopped buying new cargoes from the United States in early May when Sino-U.S. trade tensions were renewed. China plans to stockpile up to 7 million tonnes of U.S. cargoes booked during the earlier trade truce in preparation for a protracted trade war.
Chinese buyers last year scooped up a bumper harvest in Brazil, its top supplier of the oilseed, on worries of future tight supplies a month after Beijing threatened to levy the 25% duty on U.S. soybean imports in addition to the regular import duties and fees.
Beijing seems to be more prepared as it enters a second year with hefty taxes on U.S. soybeans, traders said, with worries over a potential shortage easing.
Chinese crushers still booked more cargoes from Brazil and Argentina following the renewed escalation of Sino-U.S. trade tensions.
Soybean shipments in the coming months were expected to jump significantly from May, even while African swine fever outbreaks continue to cut demand, said Monica Tu, analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Ltd.
China has reported more than 120 outbreaks of the disease - across all of its mainland provinces and regions, as well as Hainan island and Hong Kong - since it was first detected in the country in early August 2018.
The disease may reduce China’s pork output by about 30% this year, according to Rabobank.
Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Joseph Radford and Tom Hogue