China tightens quality standards of soybean imports from the US

China bought US$14.2 billion of US soybeans, the biggest destination for bean exports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 1:24am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 6:52am

China, the world’s top soybean buyer, will reduce the amount of foreign material allowed in shipments of US soybeans as of January 1, the US Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday, a move that may curb imports.

US soybean shipments arriving at Chinese ports containing up to 1 per cent of foreign material would be expedited while shipments with more than 1 per cent could be held back for testing, according to Will Wepsala, a spokesman at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Quality specifications for No 2 yellow soybeans – the variety most common in US export contracts – allow for up to 2 per cent foreign material.

The more stringent standards will be another headache for US grain handlers already facing dwindling profit margins due to record global soybean supplies.

China requested the change in specifications due mostly to concerns over weed seeds in US cargoes, Wepsala said.

US soybean farmers in recent years have been battling herbicide-resistant weeds, the remnants of which show up in harvested beans.

China accounts for roughly two-thirds of global soy imports, buying primarily from the United States, Brazil and Argentina. Exports of US soybeans to China in 2016 were valued at more than US$14 billion, according to USDA.

The new rules mean “the US is going to lose some business,” said Charlie Sernatinger, global head of grain futures for ED&F Man Capital Markets in Chicago.

American shippers will have to pay a premium for supplies that meet the higher standards, he said. “There are no such certificates required for Brazil (soy) beans.”

Chinese importers sign deal to buy 12.53 mln tonnes of US soybeans

Ensuring soybeans contained only 1 per cent foreign material could add 15 cents per bushel in costs for US exporters, and processors in China will likely buy from South America to avoid any potential delays in unloading, said Sernatinger.

“There’s no way they’re buying US beans,” Sernatinger said of his Chinese clients.

Chicago Board of Trade January soybean futures fell 2 cents to US$9.54 per bushel, a three-month low, declining in part because of the China trade requirements.

“Going forward, if this is what China wants, we will have to adjust,” a US export trader said.

In Argentina, shipments of soybeans to China can contain up to 2 per cent foreign material, said Andres Alcaraz, spokesman for Argentina’s Ciara-Cec grains exporters industry group.

“Argentine soy … has had no complaints from China about this in particular,” Alcaraz said of foreign material.

With additional reporting from Bloomberg