China was the top buyer of US agricultural and related products in the first half of this year, buying a record $17.5 billion of exports between January and June, according to US Census Bureau data released on Thursday.
That amount was 15% more than 2021 for the same period and puts China on track to be the leading international buyer of US agricultural products for a third consecutive year.
It includes an increased trade volumes of beef and other items, although it also reflects significantly higher prices in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Soybeans accounted for 29% of this year’s first-half exports to China, corn 18%, cotton 11% and sorghum 9%.
The overall figure surpasses the full-year totals from both 2018 and 2019, when China was largely shunning US goods and prices were low.
Prices were already high in 2021, but 2022 started with even steeper rates. The exported cost of US corn to China in the first half of 2022 was 21% higher than the same period last year, while the price of soybeans was 23% higher and cotton 34% higher.
The 9.7 million tonnes of US corn shipped to China in H1 2022 was 24% less than last year, although it was substantial compared to earlier years. Soy exports totalled 8.8 million tonnes, which was 15% up on-year, while shipments of cotton rose by a whopping 71% to 800,000 tonnes.
But that follows much weaker exports to China in late 2021, likely due to a combination of high prices, easing demand from the feed sector and slowing economic activity.
Increasing Taste for US Beef
However, US corn, soybean and cotton exports to China in the current marketing year are below last year’s levels.
Corn and soybean shipments to China in the 2021-22 marketing year that began September 1 and continued till the end of June were down 33% and 20%, respectively. Cotton shipments were down 10% between August 2021 and June 2022.
China has been relatively quiet in recent weeks when it comes to buying US corn, soybeans and cotton for 2022-23, though there were unconfirmed rumours on Thursday of more bean purchases. China normally ramps up new-crop soy bookings each August.
China is the world’s largest consumer and producer of pork, though it had to turn to US supplies when severe disease spread through its hog herd four years ago. However, that trade flow peaked in 2020, and US pork shipments to China in the first half of 2022 plunged 53% on-year to 460,300 tonnes.
China’s increasing taste for US beef has replaced some of the pork losses, as first-half exports by volume surged 49% from the first half in 2021. US beef and beef product exports to China in the first half totalled 120,500 tonnes and were valued at over $1 billion, which made it the fifth largest item of the year behind soybeans, corn, cotton and sorghum.
That makes China the third largest destination for US beef so far in 2022 behind Japan and South Korea.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard