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China Feb soya bean imports fall to 4-year low amid tariffs, flat demand

[BEIJING] China's soya bean imports in February fell to their lowest monthly level in four years, as buying slowed amid uncertainties over trade relations with the United States and flat demand for soya meal, customs data showed on Friday.

The world's top buyer of soya beans brought in 4.46 million tonnes of the oilseed in February, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. That was down 17 per cent from the same month a year earlier as a hefty tariff on soya beans from the United States, China's second-largest supplier, weighed.

"The low figures were still mainly because of tariffs on US soya beans," said Tian Hao, senior analyst with First Futures.

"Importers did not buy lots of Brazilian beans recently either, as they were waiting to buy US soya beans, amid optimism of a final Sino-US trade deal," Mr Tian said. "What is more, there were no commercial benefits to bring in Brazilian soya beans as demand was flat due to African swine fever outbreaks."

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Chinese buyers had been scooping up on Brazilian beans but such purchases have slowed recently as Beijing and Washington made major progress in trade talks, aimed at ending a lengthy trade dispute.

The February figures were also 40 per cent down from 7.38 million tonnes in January, the data showed, as crushers slowed production during the Lunar New Year holiday. Soya bean imports usually ease in the month of the week-long festival, which fell in early February this year, as businesses close.

For the first two months of 2019, imports fell to 11.83 million tonnes, down 15 per cent from the same time a year ago.

Shipments this year have dropped as a highly contagious African swine fever outbreak has ravaged the world's largest pig herd, curbing demand for soya beans for use in animal feed.

China has reported 111 outbreaks of the disease in 28 of its provinces and regions since August 2018.

China typically imports the majority of its oilseeds from the United States in the fourth quarter and early in the new year after the US harvest comes to market.

However, buyers have avoided US cargoes because of tariffs imposed on soya beans amid the ongoing trade tensions.

The two countries agreed a trade truce on Dec 1, and Chinese firms have so far bought about 10 million tonnes of US soya beans for delivery in the first months of 2019, although a 25 per cent tariff on US shipments remains in place.

REUTERS