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China's Cautious on U.S. Soybean Imports, Disappointing Market

Alfred Cang
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China's Cautious on U.S. Soybean Imports, Disappointing Market

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Chinese private soybean processors purchased about five cargoes from the U.S. this week, according to people familiar with the deals, less than what was expected by the market.

The private crushers in the world’s biggest soybean importer bought the cargoes for December and January shipment, said the people, who asked to not be identified as the matter is private.

Despite Beijing issuing waivers for retaliatory tariffs on some U.S. beans, the pace of purchases has been disappointing the market. Deals that have been confirmed for shipment in January from the U.S. may only be 10% to 15% of what the market expected, according to Monica Tu, an oilseed analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co.

“Buyers are cautious,” said Tu. “There’s uncertainty because of the mixed information on trade talks between China and the U.S.”

Still, the attractive prices of U.S. beans compared with rival supplies such as those from Brazil may have led to the renewed imports, while optimism that profits from crushing soybeans in China will rise after the Lunar New Year may have helped spur them too, she said.

Reuters reported earlier that Chinese commercial importers purchased as much as seven cargoes of U.S. soybeans this week for December and January shipments amid competitive U.S. prices.

China’s purchases of the oilseed from the U.S., the world’s second-largest grower, have been viewed as a barometer of the negotiations. A U.S. demand that China spell out how it plans to reach as much as $50 billion in agricultural imports annually has become a sticking point in negotiations on a phase one trade deal, according to people familiar with the matter.

Delayed Unloading

China has also taken actions that could signal imports of U.S. farm goods are in jeopardy if talks sour. While China restarted purchases of some agricultural products as talks progressed, it is now delaying the unloading of American soybeans at its ports, the people said, which could slow down further purchases.

About 1.8 million tons of soybeans, mostly for state reserves, are being held up at China’s ports. Local buyers have to pay a hefty deposit to customs before they can collect refunds on the 30% tit-for-tat tariffs which China adopted because of the trade war. The deposits can cost as much as 60 million yuan ($8.5 million) per cargo and unloading can take about 28 days.

China’s Ministry of Commerce and General Administration of Customs did not immediately respond to faxes seeking comment on the enforcement mechanism and port delays respectively.

(Updates with trade war news from seventh paragraph)

--With assistance from Niu Shuping and Steven Yang.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alfred Cang in Singapore at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski at, Anna Kitanaka, James Poole

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