January 25, 2019 / 1:23 AM / 8 months ago

China's 2018 soybean imports from U.S. hit lowest since 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s soybean imports from the United States plunged 99 percent in December to just 69,298 tons, customs data showed on Friday, taking its full-year 2018 imports to the lowest level since 2008 amid an ongoing trade war.

FILE PHOTO - Imported soybeans are transported from a cargo ship at a port in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

It was the second month in a row when Chinese imports from the United States ground to a virtual halt amid the tit-for-tat dispute, although some buying has since resumed as talks between the world’s two largest economies continue.

U.S. shipments in December fell from 6.19 million tons a year earlier. China did not import any U.S. beans in November.

For the full year, imports from the U.S. were at 16.6 million tons, about half of 2017’s 32.9 million tons.

By contrast, China brought in 4.39 million tons of soybeans from Brazil in December, up 126 percent from 1.94 million tons a year ago, according to the data from the General Administration of Customs.

China usually gets most of its oilseed imports in the last quarter of the year from the United States as the U.S. harvest comes to market at that time.

But purchases fell sharply after Beijing placed an additional 25-percent tariff on U.S. soy imports on July 6 as part of the tit-for-tat trade dispute. China has stepped up its Brazilian imports to fill the gap.

Beijing has resumed buying some U.S. cargoes after the two countries agreed on Dec. 1 to a truce in the trade war. U.S. exporters last week loaded six soybean vessels bound for China, the most in any week since the start of the tariff war between Washington and Beijing.

But China has so far only bought a fraction of its usual purchases from the United States.

China crushes soybeans to produce soymeal, which is fed to its massive livestock herds.

Despite the drop in U.S. oilseed imports, soymeal stocks are plentiful thanks to the Brazilian soybean shipments and falling demand caused by an epidemic of African swine fever that has ravaged its pig herd.

Total soybean imports for 2018 came to 88.03 million tons, a drop of 7.9 percent on the year before, and the first contraction since 2011 because of the high duties on U.S. supplies.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton; editing by Richard Pullin

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