Cheap China Corn Seen Curbing Imports Amid Ample Domestic Supply

August 10, 2016 07:26 AM

China’s imports of corn and feed grains are set to slump after the government increased the amount auctioned from state reserves and domestic prices dropped to a decade low, according to analysts.

The government is offering about 7.9 million metric tons of corn from its stockpiles for a third week. That compares with 6 million tons offered in auctions held July 21 and 22 and about 2 million tons offered July 12-13, which included poor quality grain. China is the world’s second-biggest corn consumer.

Chinese corn futures tumbled to a decade low last week amid increasing sales from state reserves. Almost 13 million tons has been sold since auctions began on May 27, according to data from the National Grain Trade Center compiled by Bloomberg. Imports may slump 69 percent in the year starting October and purchases of alternative feeds barley and sorghum will also drop, according to the China National Grain and Oils Information Center.

“Imports of corn substitutes have become almost impossible,” said Feng Lichen, chief analyst at Chicorn, a private consulting firm. “Domestic futures prices have already fallen below prices for imported barley and sorghum.”

Imports Drop

Corn for January delivery, after China’s harvest, fell to 1,438 yuan a ton on Aug. 2 on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, the lowest for the most-active contract since October 2006. Futures were at 1,453 yuan on Wednesday, a 12 percent discount to the September delivery contract. The price of U.S. sorghum imported to China including taxes was at 1,689.12 yuan a ton on Tuesday. Australian barley was at 1,545.06 yuan a ton.

China’s sorghum imports dropped 45 percent in June from a year earlier and barley purchases fell 51 percent, according to official customs data. Inbound corn shipments plunged 92 percent in the period, the data show.

Buyers will also cut imports of U.S. distiller’s dried grains with solubles on expectations China may introduce anti-dumping tariffs in one or two months, said Shi Wei, an analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. China’s commerce ministry may announce a decision in September and it is very likely to impose a sanction, Platts reported Aug. 2 citing a person close to the matter it didn’t identify.

Corn Surplus

The government is expected to sell about 40 million tons of corn in 2016, including 20 million tons sold directly to the market earlier this year, according to Feng’s estimate. The government has about 230 million tons of reserves, JCI data show. That’s more than double the amount estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

China is grappling with a corn glut after the government began subsidizing output in 2008, acquiring grain at above-market prices to protect farm incomes. The government is ending the stockpiling system, replacing it with other subsidies to make it more market based, and is reducing the area planted to corn for the first time in a decade. China’s 2016-17 corn harvest is still set to exceed annual consumption, CNGOIC estimates.

“Enterprises are very cautious in building stocks as they expect a further drop in prices,” said Zhang Zhixian, senior researcher at, a state-affiliated researcher. “If farmers are having problems selling their harvests, local governments may have to stockpile this year.”

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