An analysis of China's agricultural imports by its Ministry of Agriculture for the first half of 2015 shows that China's trade deficit in agricultural products shrank 20% from a year earlier. But a closer look shows a complicated mish-mash of surges and declines across various commodities. The 10% decline in agricultural import value reflects cheaper soybeans, plunging imports of edible oils, and a collapse of dairy imports.
Dimsums chart based on China Ministry of Agriculture data.
As usual, soybeans are the dominant import item, accounting for nearly half of the import volume. However, the volume of soybean imports increased only 2.8% year-on-year while the value declined 20%. China moved away from importing other oilseeds and oils. Import volume of rapeseed was down 13%, palm oil was down 14%, rapeseed oil was down 18%, and soybean oil imports were down 67%.
The second-biggest chunk of imports by volume is represented by corn and its substitutes. China imported 2.7 mmt of corn (nearly all from Ukraine and Bulgaria) in H1 2015, 5.4 mmt of barley, 5.4 mmt of sorghum, and 2.4 mmt of distillers dried grains (DDGS), a total of nearly 16 mmt. (The MOA analysis neglects to include 5.9 mmt of cassava imports--another corn substitute.) Imports of Ukrainian corn doubled from last year and sorghum and barley imports more than doubled as feed mills sought cheaper alternatives to expensive Chinese corn. However, imports of DDGS were down 24%. Officials are eyeing these imports as they worry about how to clear out their massive inventory of domestic corn with another huge corn crop on the horizon.
Rice and wheat imports were modest in comparison--each was only 1.4 mmt during H1 2015. The modest volumes are due to limits imposed by tariff rate quotas. Demand of high-quality imported wheat is robust and prices are high. A rice market analysis by Farmers Daily reports that domestic rice prices are still under pressure from cheaper imports even though stronger enforcement efforts had curtailed smuggling along the southern border. Farmers Daily expects most of the recently-harvested early rice crop to be sold to the bloated government reserve.
Cotton imports during H1 2015 were down 29% from a year earlier. Chinese authorities pledged not to allocate any additional "sliding scale" cotton quota this year as they try to whittle down those inventories as well. The volume of imports of over 1 mmt exceeded the tariff rate quota for the year. Despite the decline in Chinese cotton prices, China's textile industry increased its imports of yarn by 20% to 1.2 mmt.
|China agricultural imports, January - June 2015|
|Item||1000 Metric Tons||Percent change|