A Chinese soybean industry executive complained about the sector's chronic excess capacity and predicted that Russia would be the main supplier of China's future soybean demand growth.
The comments were made by Shi Yongge, the vice-chairman on China's Jiusan Grain and Oils Industry Group at a global oilseed conference hosted in Guangzhou by the Dalian Commodity Exchange last week. Mr. Shi praised the role of China's supply side reform initiative in reviving domestic soybean production this year, but he worried about the sustainability of the shift in planted area away from corn to soybeans. Mr. Shi expects China's soybean imports to reach 93 mmt this year, over 90% of soybeans used in the country.
Mr. Shi raised concerns about excess crushing capacity in China. Much of the capacity has been built along the northern coast, and he thinks the northeast region is about to follow suit. China's domestic soybeans are increasingly oriented toward food protein products like tofu and soy sauce, Shi said.
Mr. Shi also worried about domination of the soybean market by ten companies that have 70% of the crushing capacity. They include state-owned, foreign-invested, and private companies, including COFCO, Wilmar, Jiusan, Sinograin, and Bohi. He thinks competition will heat up and financial losses will return next year when new capacity comes online.
Mr. Shi pointed out that China is the largest soybean-consuming country, and whoever meets China's demand will win the market. He surmised that Russia would be the top supplier of China's soybean demand in coming years because of its geographic location and "secure transportation." He cited greater investment opportunities in China-Russia trade in view of the "One Road One Belt" initiative (which promotes trade with countries between China and Western Europe, including Russia).
Chinese farmers have been growing soybeans and other crops in Russia for 15 years or more. The flow of soybeans from Russia into China did pick up in the last few years, but is still relatively tiny, at 300,000-to-400,000 metric tons annually over the past three years. Russia was the Number-six soybean supplier to China during the 12 months that ended in September 2017. In comparison, customs statistics say China received over 45 million metric tons of soybeans from Brazil and 36 mmt from the United States. Imported soybeans from Canada more than doubled over the last three years, but imports from Russia did not increase significantly.