More barley imports to meet demands
France is vying to become a regular long-term source of malting barley for China to meet the mounting demand from the nation's booming beer industry.
"That will be a win-win situation for France, the world's largest malting barley producer, and China, the biggest brewer of beer in the world," said Jean-Jacques Vorimore, president of France Export Cereals.
"China is witnessing a rapid growth of beer production and consumption. More importantly, a growing number of Chinese breweries are paying attention to the quality of barley as they try to develop medium and high-quality products. A stable supply of high-quality barley is where France excels," Vorimore said.
Australia and Canada have been China's major sources of barley for almost a decade. French barley is usually imported when there is no more good-quality malting barley from these two countries, due to seasonal factors.
Surging transportation costs and the falling dollar have made French barley more expensive in recent years, driving away many price-sensitive Chinese breweries.
"We want to change that situation and become a regular supplier," said Vorimore at a recent seminar on French barley in Dalian, Liaoning Province. The seminar, held annually since 2002, drew more than 70 delegates from Chinese breweries and grain trading companies.
French malting barley exporters are trying to lower their transportation costs by using containers to ship barley to China. Barley is usually transported in bulk. "Every year, a large number of containers shipping Chinese products to Europe are left idle or shipped back to China with nothing in them. Making full use of these containers will lower transportation costs by 3-5 per cent," Vorimore said.
He added that France had signed contracts to ship 100,000 tons of malting barley to China by the end of last month.
"Diversifying import sources is the key to ensuring a stable supply of malting barley to China as the nation's surging demand for malting barley cannot be stably and regularly guaranteed by any single region," said Jiang Guojin, general manager of COFCO's brewing materials division.
China produced 29 million tons of beer last year, a year-on-year rise of 15.2 per cent, according to figures from the China National Food Industry Association.
Jiang estimated 3.26 million tons of malting barley were consumed last year.
Customs figures show China imported 1.62 million tons of barley in the first 11 months of last year, rising 24.3 per cent year-on-year.