Robust Brazilian Soybean Exports Propel China to Unprecedented Import Levels Surpassing 100 Million Tonnes

China set a new record by importing 100.85 million tonnes of soybeans in the marketing year 2022/23, primarily driven by increased shipments from Brazil, as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The surge in soybean imports was a result of a rebound in demand for soybean meal in the swine and poultry sectors, along with heightened demand for vegetable oil in the food service industry, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) report on November 6.

The unprecedented level of imports also highlights China’s proactive approach to securing soybeans, particularly from Brazil, its largest supplier. Supporting the demand for Brazilian soybeans, which experienced a record harvest in 2023, aligns with China’s strategy to diversify the sources of its soybean imports, as emphasized by the USDA.

In the 2022/23 marketing year, China imported 30.3 million tonnes of soybeans from the USA, marking a 4.2% volume increase compared to the previous year. The US market share slightly decreased from 32% to 30% during this period.

Brazil remained a dominant player, supplying 62.8 million tonnes of soybeans to China, a substantial increase from the previous year, constituting 62.2% of China’s total soybean imports.

Forecasts for the 2023/24 marketing year suggest that China’s soybean imports are expected to reach around 100 million tonnes, slightly higher than the earlier estimate of 98.5 million tonnes. This projection is based on sustained demand from the feed sector, supported by expectations of ample supplies and moderate growth in demand for soybean meal in the swine and poultry industry, as well as increased demand for vegetable oil in the food sector. However, import growth might be tempered by higher domestic soybean production and state reserve soybean sales, according to the USDA.

China’s efforts to boost domestic soybean production through various local and national policies continue, although the report notes that lower soybean prices for food use could hinder a sustained increase in volumes.

Rapeseed imports, which reached a record 5.3 million tonnes in the 2022/23 marketing year, are projected to decline to 4 million tonnes due to elevated carry-in stocks, according to the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) China – Oilseeds and Products Update.

The USDA forecasts a slight increase in total Chinese oilseed production for the 2023/24 marketing year, reaching 65.3 million tonnes, up from the projected 64.6 million tonnes in the 2022/23 marketing year.

Soybean production for the 2023/24 marketing year is expected to remain unchanged at 19.7 million tonnes, according to the USDA’s previous estimate. This production estimate is based on a stable planted area of 10.05 million hectares and a slight yield decrease due to flooding and other impacts from heavy rainfall in late July and early August.

The USDA maintains its forecast for China’s rapeseed production in 2023/24 at 15.4 million tonnes.

Total oilseed crushing for the 2023/24 marketing year is anticipated to be 135 million tonnes, slightly increased from the previous estimate of 134 million tonnes. The USDA also adjusted its projection for soybean crushing to 96 million tonnes, reflecting a moderate expansion in demand for soybean products, abundant soybean supply, and relatively low soybean meal prices compared to recent highs. Rapeseed crushing for the 2023/24 marketing year is forecasted at 19 million tonnes, consistent with the USDA’s previous report and the estimate for the 2022/23 marketing year.

Image by Freepik via