BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s soybean imports fell 13 percent in January from the same month a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, as a hefty duty imposed on shipments from the United States, its second-largest supplier, curbed purchases.
China brought in 7.38 million tonnes of soybeans in January, down from 8.48 million tonnes a year earlier, preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs showed. January’s imports were up 29 percent from 5.72 million tonnes in December.
“The figures were higher than expected. It was mainly because some cargoes delayed in December cleared customs in January. They were mainly Brazilian beans,” said Monica Tu, analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co.
China, the world’s top soybean buyer, typically imports the majority of its oilseeds from the United States in the period October-January after the U.S. harvest comes to market.
However, purchases of American soybeans plummeted through 2018 as buyers avoided U.S. cargoes amid tariffs and a trade war between Beijing and Washington. The customs department doesn’t disclose the origin of imports in its preliminary data.
The two countries then agreed a trade truce on Dec. 1, and Chinese firms have so far bought about 10 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans for delivery in the first months of 2019, although a 25 percent tariff on U.S. shipments remains in place.
Imports of the oilseed are expected to rise in coming months as the new harvest from Brazil enters the market and as more U.S. shipments clear customs, analysts have said.
China’s national weekly soybeans stocks were at 6.19 million tonnes by Jan. 29, down from a record high in October, but still above January levels in previous years.
Still, demand for the oilseed usually weakens after Chinese New Year holiday, which fell in early February this year, while a fast-spreading outbreak of African swine fever might also dampen consumption.
China has reported about 100 cases of the highly contagious disease since early August. Some producers have abandoned pig farming on fears the disease will spread and as a government ban on hog transport has depressed prices.
Imports of vegetable oils in January were 859,000 tonnes, up 16 percent from the previous month.
Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Richard Pullin