Business / Economy

Soybean imports set to rise this year

By Zhou Siyu (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-23 09:48

China, the world's largest soybean consumer and importer, is expected to further increase its soybean imports this year, thanks to its increasing demand and declining domestic output.

That suggested the country is becoming more dependent on the global food market.

The China National Grain and Oils Information Center, a research unit at the State Administration of Grain, raised its forecast in its latest report, projecting that the country's soybean imports will reach 3.5 million metric tons in October, 5.2 million tons in November and 4.5 million tons in December.

This means that China's soybean imports this year will increase 9.3 percent from last year to a total of 57.5 million tons.

The country's domestic soybean output, meanwhile, was estimated to decline by 11.6 percent from last year to 12.8 million tons, as China's soybean growing area shrank by 14.43 percent from a year earlier to this year's 6.75 million hectares, according to the report.

In the meantime, China's soybean consumption this year was predicted to increase 3 percent from last year to 74.4 million tons, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. This marks the 10th consecutive annual increase in the country's soybean consumption and will increase the nation's reliance on imports, industry analysts said.

China was not a soybean importer until the 1990s. But 82 percent of the soybeans consumed in the country in 2011 came from imports. More than 40 percent of the imported beans were from the United States, according to official data.

Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Ltd, one of the industry's largest specialist consultancies, said the increase in imports was "within expectations", and resulted from the country's continuing urbanization, which spurred a dietary change from vegetables to meat, driving up the livestock industry's demand for soybeans for animal feed. "China should strive to have a larger say in the soybean trade by diversifying its soybean suppliers and encouraging overseas investments by agricultural companies."

He added that the government should continue its support for agricultural research to raise soybean output, and offer farmers more incentives to grow soybeans. China's current soybean output per hectare is less than half that of the US.

Industry analysts said this year's extreme weather in a number of large soybean-growing countries, such as the US, may have triggered panic buying among Chinese soybean oil processors, who scrambled to replenish their stocks.

The worst drought in 56 years hit the US in June this year, prompting industry concerns about this year's soybean yields while driving up soybean prices in the global market. The Chicago Board of Trade said November soybeans jumped to a historical high of $17.9475 per bushel on Sept 4.

According to the latest report from the US Department of Agriculture, US soybean output this year is expected to decline 7.54 percent from a year earlier to 77.84 million tons.

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