October 12, 2018 / 2:51 AM / 7 months ago

China's September soybean imports fall, but ahead of expectations

BEIJING, Oct 12 (Reuters) - China’s soybean imports fell slightly in September from a year earlier but were ahead of market expectations, boosted by large volumes from Brazil as buyers tried to shore up stocks, customs data showed on Friday.

Soybean imports are being closely watched after Beijing in July imposed a 25 percent tariff on U.S. products worth $34 billion, including soybeans, in response to U.S. penalties on Chinese goods worth the same amount.

China, the world’s top soybean buyer, brought in 8.01 million tonnes of the oilseed in September, down from 9.15 million tonnes in August and below last year’s 8.11 million tonnes, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the General Administration of Customs on Friday.

But the arrivals were higher than market expectations of over 7 million tonnes, said Monica Tu, analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd.

A surge in purchasing from Brazil had caused backlogs at ports, delaying some arrivals in August. Those cargoes cleared customs the following month, which boosted September numbers, she said.

Chinese buyers have been scooping up Brazilian beans on worries of tight supplies of the oilseed in the fourth quarter when cargoes from the United States usually dominate the market.

Farmers have sold 92.9 percent of the old 2017/18 crop in Brazil, compared with 83.7 percent at the same time a year earlier, and 90.2 percent historically for the period, data showed.

The buying spree has pushed up prices of beans from the South American country, the world’s top exporter, even above the cost of U.S. shipments including the hefty tariffs.

Most Chinese buyers, however, still chose to stay away from U.S. cargoes because of the risk of further curbs on U.S. soybeans.

The customs data showed imports for the first nine months at 70.01 million tonnes, down from 71.45 million tonnes for the same period last year.

China’s soybean imports will further drop in the coming months as it enters what has typically been the major buying season for U.S. cargoes, possibly leading to a shortage of the oilseed, analysts said.

China is considering limiting the amount of protein used to feed pigs and poultry to cope with tighter soybean supplies in coming months.

The push is part of a broader strategy to wean the country off its heavy reliance on imports of the oilseed.

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Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; editing by Richard Pullin

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