BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s imports of U.S. soybeans surged in December from a year earlier, data showed on Friday, as China ramped up purchases during a thaw in the two country’s trade war.
China brought in 3.09 million tonnes of soybeans from the United States in December, 44 times the level a year ago, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
The figure was also up from 2.56 million tonnes in November, after some delayed cargoes cleared customs, but was still shy of the six million-plus levels for U.S. December imports to China in 2017 and earlier years.
Friday’s data provided a breakdown of China’s buying by origin after figures released earlier in January showed it bought 88.51 million tonnes of soybeans overall in 2019, just up from 88.03 million tonnes in 2018.
(GRAPHIC: China annual soybean imports by main supplier - here)
Beijing has pledged to buy billions of dollars more in agricultural goods from the United States as part of a Phase 1 deal to calm a bitter trade row. Soybeans made up more than half of its U.S. agricultural purchases in 2017 before the trade war erupted and are expected to make up a key part of any increased purchases.
For all of 2019, China brought in 16.94 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans, edging up from 16.6 million tonnes in 2018, when shipments nearly halved from the previous year due to the trade dispute.
China usually turns to U.S. soybeans in the fourth quarter of the year when the American harvest dominates the market. But U.S. cargoes nearly halted in late 2018 after Beijing slapped retaliatory tariffs on a list of U.S. products including soybeans.
(GRAPHIC: China seasonal soybean imports from the U.S. vs rest of world - here)
Chinese buyers, however, resumed some purchases of U.S. beans after a truce in their trade row and after Beijing issued extra tariff-free waivers for some American shipments in a goodwill gesture to Washington.
China’s December shipments from Brazil, its largest supplier of the oilseed, came in at 4.83 million tonnes, up 10% from a year earlier, and up 25.1% from November.
For the full year, China brought in 57.67 million tonnes of soybeans from Brazil, down 12.8% from 66.1 million tonnes in 2018.
Chinese importers bring in soybeans to crush into cooking oil, and soymeal to feed the livestock sector.
Overall imports in 2019 were down from 95.54 million tonnes in 2017, with China’s demand curbed by the deadly African swine fever disease, which has nearly halved the country’s massive pig herd.
The 2017 imports included 32.85 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans and 50.93 million tonnes from Brazil.
Reporting by Hallie Gu, Muyu Xu and Tony Munroe; editing by Richard Pullin