China Archives | Grain Brokers Australia

US-China trade deal ‘totally done’…

Posted by | Grain Brokers Australia News, Weekly Commentary | No Comments

Farmers in the United States have received an early Christmas present after Beijing and Washington finally arrived at a preliminary agreement to lift some tariffs of Chinese imports in exchange for purchases of a range of US goods and services, including agricultural commodities.

China was first to announce the deal, which follows almost two years of protracted negotiations, punctuated by Trump’s tariff hikes and Beijing’s immediate retaliation.

The US trade representative Robert Lighthizer was quite upbeat about the phase one deal saying it was ‘totally done’ and would be signed in January. However, the Chinese were far more guarded in their comments, stating that they would act reciprocally and that they had not decided when they would ink the deal.

The US is ostensibly retaining 25 per cent tariffs on US$250 billion of Chinese imports while halving the tariff rate it imposed in September on US$120 billion of Chinese goods from 15 per cent to 7.5 per cent. The US has agreed not to proceed with 15 per cent tariffs scheduled to take effect on December 15 on almost US$160 billion of Chinese imports, and Beijing has cancelled its retaliatory tariffs which were due to commence at the same time.

China has committed to increase purchases of US agriculture products by US$32 billion over two years, but this appears to fall well short of Trump’s boast in October that China would increase purchases of US farm goods to as high as $50 billion annually in two years.

The increase will be measured against the 2017 level of US agricultural and related product exports to China, the last full year before the trade war commenced. In that year, China’s purchases totalled $24 billion, bringing the annual commitment to just US$40 billion, or US$10 billion short of Trump’s objective.

Lighthizer said Beijing would aim for an additional US$5 billion in farm purchases annually, but there were no guarantees. He said broad targets for Chinese acquisitions would be released publicly. There would also be more specific targets for purchases on a range of products, but those would not be made public to avoid distorting markets.

US exports of soybeans have been hit hard by the trade dispute, and China said they would immediately increase their purchases of US beans. However, they did place a significant caveat on that action saying imports would be based on domestic demand, and the US had to be competitive compared to alternative origins.

Lighthizer confirmed that notion by declaring Beijing would be free to buy “when it’s the perfect time to buy”. Given that from February onwards, South American soybeans are generally cheaper than US imports, even without tariffs, it begs the questions as to eventual subsidies by the Chinese government on purchases of US soybeans.

The China trade representative stated that they would increase their buying of US wheat and corn, not hard since they bought nothing over the last year, but the quantities would be subject to quotas. In any case, the deal is supposedly bullish on corn, with potential for an additional 3-4MMT of imports from the US, and as one market pundit said, ‘corn is the locomotive that pulls the wheat train”. 

But many in the trade question whether it is actually feasible to achieve the additional purchases of US$16 billion per annum in 2020 and 2021. Under China’s Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) system for certain agricultural products, the total quotas of 9.2 million metric tonne (MMT) for wheat and 7.6MMT for corn equate to just US$3.5 billion.

On the futures market, it was a case of buy the rumour, sell the fact. The news of an impending deal surfaced on Thursday last week and corn, wheat and soybean futures were all up. Come Friday, the markets started the day in positive territory but gave away those gains when the deal was announced. A very subdued response from the funds which are sitting on short positions in both corn and soybeans.

Given the conflicting rhetoric throughout the negotiation process, it would be understandable if the funds and traders want to see more details and some supporting action from China before they get too excited.

Early celebrations could also be embarrassing knowing that China still holds hefty tariffs on US soybeans and pork, only waived at their discretion. And there is the prospect of a record Brazilian soybean harvest in early 2020, much of it driven and financed by China’s tariff on US soybeans.

The trade deal with China comes at a critical time for Trump, just a couple of days before a new round of tariff increases were set to take effect. The impeachment process has also been stealing the headlines in recent weeks, and Trump is desperate for some good news to deflect attention away from the impending trial.

Next year is an election year in the US and Super Tuesday, the first big test of voter sentiment, is only eleven weeks away. More delegates to the presidential nominating conventions can be won on Super Tuesday than on any other single day on the primary calendar, and it is a critical test for presidential candidates from both sides of US politics.

In an attempt to keep the good news rolling, Trump said negotiations on a “phase two agreement” with China would begin immediately, instead of waiting until after the 2020 election.

Hopefully, news of the trade deal is not another empty political promise to farmers, but the beginning of a commitment to right the vast amount of damage done to the global agricultural economy over the last two years.

Mixed fortunes for Canadian farmers…

Canadian farmers can’t take a trick this year…

Posted by | Grain Brokers Australia News, Misc, Weekly Commentary | No Comments

Canadian farmers produced the smallest canola crop in four years on the back of lower plantings and unusually wet autumn weather that left crops sitting in the paddock unharvested, the latest blow in a miserable year which started with the Chinese ban on canola imports.

The heavy snow and rain during harvest across the Canadian Prairies have left around 810,000 hectares of canola buried under snow until spring.

Crops that remain in the fields over the winter are subject to wildlife damage and moisture spoilage, but some of it can usually be salvaged and marketed at a discount in the spring. However, the need to harvest the previous crop once fields dry can seriously delay the commencement of the spring planting program in affected districts.

Statistics Canada released their Production of Principal Field Crops report last Friday the more than 700,000mt was dropped off the countries 2019/20 canola production. Estimated production came in at 18.65 million metric tonne (MMT), down 8.3 per cent on last season, and 2.9 per cent below the five-year average.

The total harvested area fell 8.8 per cent to 8.34 million hectares but yields did rise by 0.5 per cent compared to the 2018/19 season to 2.24 metric tonne per hectare.

Canada is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of canola, and the crop has long been regarded as the most profitable for the Canadian farmer. China, Japan and Mexico have traditionally been the key export destinations, with the seed primarily used for the production of cooking grade vegetable oil and canola meal for stockfeed rations.

In the absence of their largest export customer, demand has been falling, inventories have been rising, and prices have been lower as a result. Nonetheless, Canadian farmers are adjusting to the reality of life without China by working on cutting costs, improving efficiency and modifying crop rotations to decrease their reliance on canola.

As of November 24, Canadian canola exports had decreased by 9.5 per cent compared to a year earlier. But the decline is much less than many had feared and is a reflection of the success in finding alternative consumers for the surplus export stocks. Several European countries are importing more Canadian canola for biofuel production, and shipments to the Middle East have also picked up in recent months.

In terms of wheat, Statistics Canada estimated current season production at 32.3MMT, a minor reduction of 140,000 compared to their previous all wheat production forecast. This put production around 0.5 per cent higher than last season and 6.5 per cent above the five-year average.

While all wheat classes were revised lower compared to the September estimates, it was a year-on-year rebound in spring wheat production that drove wheat production higher overall.

Spring wheat production is forecast to rise by 7.2 per cent to 25.67MMT, the largest spring wheat crop in six years. The harvested area is estimated to be 6.5 per cent higher than last year, and the average yield of 3.48 metric tonne per hectare is slightly higher than the 2018 harvest.

Canada western red spring makes up 86.4 per cent of all spring wheat produced, up from 83.7 per cent in 2018/19, well above both the five and ten-year averages. Durum production was estimated to fall by 13.4 per cent to 4.98MMT, with a year-on-year increase in yield unable to offset a 22.6 per cent decline in the harvested area.

Barley estimates were revised higher compared to those released earlier in the northern hemisphere autumn. Statistics Canada put total production at 10.38MMT, an increase of 23.9 per cent over the 2018 number and 28.2 per cent above the five-year average. The increase was due to harvested area, up by 13.9 per cent, and yields, which rose by nearly 9 per cent to 3.81metric tonnes per hectare.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are suggesting that year-on-year barley stocks will double, quite a bearish scenario, particularly for the Canadian farmer. Up to the end of November total barley exports for the current marketing year sat just north of 600,000 metric tonne, 4.4 per cent behind the 2018/19 pace. With the world well supplied for malting barley requirements, feed channels would appear to be the best hope of boosting exports.

Even the humble oat, now considered a ‘superfood’ in eateries across the globe, benefitted from the swing away from canola with the crop 21 per cent up on last year, at 4.16MMT, and 23.7 per cent above the five-year average.

Statistics Canada revised both the soybean and corn numbers lower compared to their September estimates. Soybean production came in at 6.05MMT, down 18.5 per cent from 2018 and 11.7 per cent below the five-year average. The corn crop is forecast at 13.40MMT, down 3.5 per cent from 2018, just below the five-year average. 

Unlike Australia, where a dry season has decimated national grain production, in Canada the wet has made 2019 a year to forget. Not only has it severely hampered the winter crop harvest, summer crop farmers are calling it the ugly trifecta. Late planting, far too much rain and snow through harvest and high-moisture grain meaning substantial drying costs will be incurred to bring it down to a market acceptable level. On top of the unharvested winter crop area, the adverse autumn weather has left many farmers facing unharvested corn paddocks into December and possibly beyond. Of all the issues the Canadian farmer has faced this year corn left standing in the paddock deep into the winter is perhaps the one they dread most.

China’s pork plight intensifies

Posted by | Grain Brokers Australia News, Weekly Commentary | No Comments

African Swine Fever (ASF) continues to decimate the domestic pig herd in China with hundreds of millions of animals now lost, either dying as a result of the devastating disease or killed in an attempt to contain the spread of the highly contagious virus.

According to the Chinese government, 40 per cent of the countries pig population has been lost since the outbreak was first discovered in August 2018. However, unofficial reports suggest that Beijing is being extremely conservative, and the world’s biggest swine herd is now more than 50 per cent lower than before the outbreak was announced. That equates to around 250 million pigs or almost 20 per cent of the global herd.

The double-stranded DNA virus causes a haemorrhagic fever with extremely high mortality rates in domestic pigs. In many instances, death can occur as quickly as one week after infection.

Infected pigs develop a high fever but show no other noticeable symptoms for the first few days. They then gradually lose their appetite and become depressed. In white-skinned pigs, the extremities such as ears, nose and abdomen turn blueish-purple. Eventually, they become unsteady on their legs, enter a comatose state and die.

The virus is amazingly resilient to a variety of curing methods and environmental conditions. There is currently no vaccine, it can endure extreme temperatures and can survive in frozen meat for several years.

The Chinese love their pork. It is a staple in their diet and accounts for more than 60 per cent of the country’s meat consumption. In 2017, the last full year before the outbreak of ASF, they consumed an average of 33 kilograms per capita. To put that in perspective, the average Australian consumed 28 kilograms, and in the US per capita consumption was 23 kilograms in the same year.

The significant decrease in the pig herd has led to an unprecedented shortage of pork in the world’s biggest pork market and has seen the ex-farm price increase by more than 125 per cent since July this year. Retail prices are said to have increased by almost 150 per cent in 2019. The soaring prices have been a significant contributing factor to rising inflation in China which hit an annualised rate of 3.8% in October.

In a bid to meet demand and arrest the surge in prices, the Chinese government has begun auctioning frozen pork from its state reserves. However, analysts indicate that deploying the pork reserves will not be enough to stabilise prices let alone reduce them, and they are expected to continue rising in the run-up to Chinese New Year in January.

One of the first ASF control measures implemented across the country last year was to close down small pig farms. In quite a controversial backflip, and despite the continued spread of the epidemic, Beijing is asking local government to reverse this policy in an attempt to arrest the production decline and shore up future supply.

The combination of strong demand, falling production, and spiralling prices have also put a rocket under Chinese imports. In September 2018, China imported 94,000 tonnes of pork. Twelve months later that number had increased by more than 71 per cent to 161,000 tonnes. And in October they were up to 177,500 tonnes. That pushed year-to-date imports past 1.5 million tonnes, an increase of 49.4 per cent on the previous corresponding period.

In addition to traditional suppliers such as Spain and Germany, China has been scrambling to approve new import origins such as Brazil, Argentina, Britain and Ireland. In early November they lifted a ban on imports of Canadian pork and beef that had been in place since June. This action suggests that Beijing does not want to be overly reliant on pork imports from the United States, especially as the “phase one” trade negotiations enter a critical phase.

The increase in global trade has led to a rise in pork prices in the major exporting regions. Pork prices in the European Union, China’s major supplier, have risen by more than 35 per cent since the beginning of 2019. And this trend is unlikely to reverse unless there is a significant, and quick rebound in Chinese production.

One positive sign is that China’s inventory of breeding sows rose by 0.6 per cent in October, the first monthly increase since April last year. On the 13,000 farms with pig production of greater than 5000 units per annum, the sow stocks increased by 4.7 per cent in October.

The total pig herd still declined by 0.6 per cent in October but was much lower than the 3 per cent drop in September. The October number was the smallest month-on-month contraction in more than twelve months and possibly signals the start of the recovery in the Chinese pig population. Only time will tell!

The Chinese government have stated that there will be a 10 million tonne shortfall in pork supply this year. And that will undoubtedly increase next year. The challenge here is that in 2018 total global pork exports were only 8 million tonnes. The global exportable surplus of pork is simply too small to fill the supply shortfall.

In a direct flow-on effect of the need for protein, Chinese imports of beef have also been increasing this year. October arrivals totalled almost 151,000 tonnes, an increase of 63 per cent in twelve months. In the first ten months of 2019 beef imports were 1.28 million tonnes, an increase of 55 per cent on the same period last year.

Australia does not have any pork plants approved for export to China and authorities have been waiting over two years to have 16 additional meat processing plants (including pork facilities) accredited by Chinese authorities.

However, we do have 35 beef plants with the required certification, and China’s importance as a destination for processed Australian beef has increased significantly in recent years. With the protein shortfall in China set to continue for some time yet, Australia’s contribution to this market should continue to flourish.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Barley anti-dumping investigation remains a sleeping giant

Posted by | Grain Brokers Australia News, Weekly Commentary | No Comments

The news late last week that the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) of the People’s Republic of China had decided to extend the anti-dumping investigation into Australian barley imports, while disappointing, came as no surprise to most market pundits.

Citing the complexity of the case, MOFCOM announced that the probe would continue for an additional six months and will be completed by May 19, 2020.

The extension comes despite full cooperation by the Australian government, its agencies, industry bodies and exporters with the ministry’s investigation over the last twelve months. By all reports the detailed information sought by Beijing in the course of the investigation has been provided in accordance with their guidelines and timelines.

The ministry launched the probe in November last year, accusing Australia of dumping barley into the Chinese market at prices it considered below fair value.

World Trade Organization (WTO) rules state that anti-dumping probes should be completed within one year, though the investigating country does have the option of an additional six months under special circumstances. It seems that ‘complexity’ qualifies as there appears to have been no attempt by the WTO to intervene.

And our’s is not the only agricultural trade stoush involving China at the moment. Early this year Beijing halted purchases of Canadian canola alleging inspectors found pests in several shipments. This has led to a slump in Canadian canola exports and has left growers battling lower prices and holding silos full of unsold seed.

And the US-China trade war continues. The on-again, off-again negotiations have been excellent fodder for the world press. However, its impact on world trade and the global economy is growing rapidly.

According to the United States negotiators, the two countries held further constructive discussions (whatever that means) over the weekend. Completely different rhetoric is being reported in China, with officials there saying the two sides are not even on the same page. Plenty of work to do, it seems, before a deal is inked.

In recent times, Australia has been China’s largest supplier of barley with the grain going into both the brewing and stockfeed markets. In the 2017/18 marketing year (October 2017 to September 2018) China imported almost 6.5 million metric tonne (MMT) of Australian barley. This was valued at more than AU$2.2 billion and accounted for around 75 per cent of China’s barley imports in that year.

Though still significant, that dropped substantially in the 2018/19 season, to a tad under 2.4MMT. To put that in perspective, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam were the next biggest importers of Australian barley at 653,000, 205,000 and 112,000 metric tonne (MT) respectively.

What does this mean for exports of Australian barley over the 2019/20 marketing year? If past actions are a fair indicator of future intentions, it certainly doesn’t mean that there will be no barley trades to China.

While a significant proportion of last season’s export business to China would have already been on the books when the anti-dumping investigation was announced, there was 730,000mt shipped in the second half of the season. Most of this business was probably concluded after the investigation commenced.

However, any new crop sales are more likely to be malting barley as opposed to feed barley. Feed grain demand is falling as the African Swine Flu epidemic continues to decimate the pig population in China.

On the other hand, Chinese brewers prefer Australian malting barley over French on the basis of quality, and malting barley prices in Canada make that origin uncompetitive at the moment. In fact, market rumours are suggesting that as much as 500,000MT of new crop Australian business may have already been concluded.

The expectation is that barley exports to China will be down again this year. Those exporters that are willing to accept China as a trade counterparty are likely to trickle barley onto the Chinese mainland but will minimise risk by doing so one, or maybe two, cargos at a time.

Outside of China, Saudi Arabia, in particular the port of Dammam in the Arabian Gulf, increases in significance as a destination for Australia’s exportable surplus in the first half of 2020. Australian exporters would certainly be hoping to do more than the one, 66,000MT, cargo shipped to the Gulf state in the 2018/19 season.

The Saudi Arabian Grain Organisation (SAGO) announced a tender late last week for 1.02MMT of animal feed barley for February and March arrival. The results were released on Monday with offers received from Australia, the European Union, the United States, Argentina and the Black Sea region.

In the end, SAGO booked 17 individual consignments of 60,000MT, with 13 (780,000MT) destined for Red Sea ports and 4 (240,000MT) to be delivered to Arabian Gulf ports. The average price of US$216.62 was an increase of US$6.67 (approximately AU$10) on the previous tender for an identical quantity on September 30.

Looking at the breakdown of offers, and the companies involved, it would be safe to assume that a significant portion of the Arabian Gulf business will be executed out of Australian ports and, surprisingly, some of the Red Sea shipments may also be Australian origin. Great news for domestic barley growers in a week when China disappointed.

With Australia’s freight advantage over the Black Sea and Europe, domestic exporters will also be looking to other traditional Asian consumers such as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia to step up to the plate and increase their imports of Australian barley over the next ten months.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Global wheat values rally as the Australian harvest commences…

Posted by | Weekly Commentary | No Comments

International wheat prices continued to firm last week on the back of crop downgrades in the southern hemisphere, delays to the spring wheat harvest in North America, rumours of Chinese interest in United States wheat and firmer cash offers, particularly out of the Black Sea region.

All this drew attention away from burdensome global wheat supplies and prompted a round of short-covering by both the trade and funds, with the latter square or slightly long by week’s end.

The Chicago Board of Trade soft red winter December wheat contract closed Friday’s session at a fourteen-week high of 532¼ cents per bushel (c/bu). This is a rise of 78¾ c/bu, or 17.4 per cent, since the most recent contract low of 453½ c/bu, set on September 3. The contract rose 24 ¼ c/bu across the week, or almost 5 per cent, to register its seventh consecutive weekly advance.

Argentine wheat crop estimates continue to leak lower on the back of sustained dryness across crucial production areas. Recent rains in many regions have not been strong enough to help wheat fields left gasping for moisture after weeks of dryness.

Weather and crop forecaster Maxar is calling the Argentine wheat crop 18.7 million metric tonne (MMT), and at least one commercial trading house is said to be calling the wheat crop as low as 18.2MMT. This compares to the latest USDA estimate of 20.5MMT.

The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange (BAGE) suggested that while crop potential had stabilised in the east, yield losses could be as high as 40 per cent in southern Cordoba, eastern La Pampa and western Buenos Aires, and this number could potentially increase if critical spring rains do not arrive in time.

BAGE still put the winter wheat area at 6.6 million hectares, but it appears that they are preparing the market for a downward revision of their current 19.8MMT forecast when they update production estimates sometime this week.

The spring wheat harvest in the Dakotas and Minnesota continues to be dogged by rainfall, snow and blizzards. There is talk that any unharvested wheat is either going to be ploughed under for insurance, grazed out, or baled up for hay as the weather is now unlikely to remain favourable for long enough to get a header into the fields.

If that is true, global supply may end up losing 20 or 30 million bushels (550,000 to 820,000 metric tonne) when the USDA update production numbers in their November report.

The Canadian farmers are faring much worse, as rains and snow continue unabated. At least a quarter of the Canadian Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat crop yet to be reaped. While 95 per cent of the wheat area in Manitoba had reportedly been harvested by last week, only 70 per cent of the Saskatchewan crop and 60 per cent of the Alberta crop was thought to be in the bin.

Rumours surfaced midway through last week of China wanting to purchase as much as 2MMT of wheat from the United States. There was no talk of wheat being on Beijing’s US$50 billion shopping list when news of the trade war breakthrough surfaced last week, and there are still no details, no grade breakdown, and no indication of anyone asking for offers.

However, news that wheat may now be included in the yet to be signed trade deal has generated some excitement in the US, and the futures and cash markets reacted accordingly.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s state-owned grain buyer GASC announced last week that it had purchased 405,000 tonnes of wheat for November 21-30 delivery in its latest tender. The purchase included 285,000 metric tonnes of Russian, 60,000 metric tonne of Ukrainian and the same quantity of French origin.

The average purchase price was around $212.50 FOB and once freight was added it equated to $230.70 C&F. The price reflected the significant rise in European Union and Black Sea markets since the start of the month. The average Black Sea FOB price was US$8.70 higher than the previous GASC purchase on October 9.

The higher price follows a rally in domestic wheat prices in Russia in recent weeks, and there appear to be several factors at play. There are reports of significant trade shorts that have been forced to cover when the market move caught them off guard, and there are also traders getting long in anticipation of further market gains.

The internal rally has also stoked up demand from the domestic sector in Russia. This is particularly the case for milling wheat which is reacting to competition from Kazakhstan due to their crop shortfall. Kazakhstan is the world’s second-biggest flour exporter, and a significantly smaller crop this season, along with poor quality, has sent buyers across the border to try and cover the supply deficit.

Here in Australia wheat prices were stable to slightly firmer last week despite a further deterioration in crop conditions in most regions. The National Australia Bank decreased its domestic wheat production forecast by 1.5MMT to 15.5MMT compared to their September number.

Interestingly, the rally in Russian wheat prices has seen the spread to Western Australian export values narrow to around US$30. This was as high as US$50 only one month ago but is still too high for domestic exporters to buy international demand, even with the freight advantage Australia holds into key Asian destinations.

Reaping may have started in a number of areas, but the harvest price pressure is still ahead of us. It remains to be seen how that will play out this season. There is likely to be a reluctance on behalf of the trade to repeat last year’s harvest buying spree unless they can compete into the export market. But how will the grower react if prices fall?

Uncertainty around the final size of the Australian wheat crop and the exportable surplus only adds to the conundrum.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Who holds the Trump card in the ongoing trade war?

Posted by | Weekly Commentary | No Comments

World agricultural commodity markets look set for continued volatility as the trade truce between the United States (US), and China appears to be dead in the water. Late last week both Washington and Beijing released statements suggesting that a deal to end the bitter trade dispute was unlikely in the short term.

Negotiations have been at an impasse since May with both sides claiming the other reneged on provisions of a tentative deal. Tensions escalated last Thursday when The Don (Trump) announced, via Twitter, a new tariff of 10 per cent on US$300 billion worth of Chinese imports that aren’t already subject to US duties.
This is on top of the US$250 billion worth of Chinese imports that are already subject to a 25 per cent tariff imposed mid-way through last year. The new tariff is set to come into effect on September 1.

It was no surprise to see China respond to the latest announcement by saying that they would take all counter-measures necessary as a result of the escalation in the trade conflict. However, the trade imbalance is a huge challenge for China. Washington has the potential to tax around US$540 billion worth of Chinese imports, but Beijing only has around US$120 billion worth of US goods it could target.

That said, President Xi Jinping does hold one significant trump card. China controls more than 90 per cent of the world’s production of rare earths, a group of 17 metals with magnetic and conductive properties that power most of the globe’s electronic devices. More importantly, it also accounted for 80 per cent of all US rare earth mineral imports between 2014 and 2017.

Chinese imports of US agricultural commodities have fallen dramatically as a result of Don’s Party (the trade war). Beijing retaliated to the initial round of US duties by slapping a 25 per cent tariff on a long list of US goods, including soybeans, in July 2018.

China is by far and away the world’s biggest importer of soybeans. The burgeoning demand for soybeans in China over the last ten years has been driven by an explosion in demand for meat as consumers shift from a diet dominated by rice to one where pork, poultry and beef play an increasingly important part.

In 2017, Brazil and the US were the two biggest soybean exporters, totalling US$25.7 billion and US$21.4 billion respectively. China accounted for two-thirds of global trade, importing US$39.6 billion worth of beans. In the same year, US exports were around a third of Chinese soybean purchases. At just under US$14 billion, soybeans were the second most valuable US export to China, behind aeroplanes.

However, the US share of that import demand has changed dramatically as a result of Don’s Party. Up to the end of May this year, US soybean exports to China were less than 6 million metric tonne (MMT), with a value of around US$2.7 billion. In volume terms that is almost an 80 per cent decrease compared to the three-year average of 29MMT for the same period.

It is no accident that the Chinese chose to impose tariffs on soybeans. The biggest producing soybean states are across the US Midwest, and this is The Don’s heartland. The farmers voted him into office. Beijing hopes that the farmer will either lobby Washington to solve the impasse or desert Trump at the ballot box in next year’s election.

So, what does The Don do to appease the US farmer? He announces another support package worth a monstrous US$16 billion, that’s what! According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announcement late last month, the latest Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payment “is aimed at supporting American agricultural producers while the Administration continues to work on free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals” with China.

This is the second round of trade assistance announced by the US in response to what Washington termed as “unjustified retaliatory tariffs” on agricultural commodities. The first program, totalling US$12 billion, was announced in August 2018, with payments made in the third quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.

Primary producers can qualify for payments ranging from $15 to $150 per acre for row crops under this year’s version of the MFP, with rates varying widely by county and region. The rates are based on the historical mix of crops produced by each county as well as USDA’s calculation of the impact on each commodity of unfair trade practices over the past ten years.

The first tranche of payments is expected to begin this month with a potential second wave in November and a third, and final, distribution in January 2020. The USDA said that the second and third payments could be cancelled if the trade war with China is resolved beforehand.

The irony is that recent research has found that 10 per cent of the recipients, predominantly large corporate farms, are receiving a whopping 54 per cent of the payments. The vast majority of US farmers, the smaller operators, those with the least ability to cope, but are copping the brunt of Don’s Party, have been abandoned as the payments are proportionate to farm size and success.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Chinese economy faltering as Don’s Party rolls on…

Posted by | Weekly Commentary | No Comments

News that a Chinese trade delegation had cancelled this week’s planned visit to farms in the states of Montana and Nebraska has put a dampener on the upcoming US-China trade negotiations. The delegation reportedly headed back to Beijing earlier than scheduled after mid-level talks wound up in Washington late last week.
The delegation was involved in preliminary trade talks with US officials to find a resolution to the ongoing trade war (Don’s Party) ahead of cabinet-level negotiations which are scheduled to take place in Washington in October. Their early departure has raised doubts about a possible breakthrough and sent US soybean futures more than 1 per cent lower in Friday’s trade.

High hopes were set for last week’s trade talks in Washington, which came after both sides softened trade tensions earlier this month with gestures such as tariff exemptions and delays. China purchased 600,000 metric tonne of US soybeans the previous week and said it would exempt American pork and soybeans from additional tariffs, taking effect this month, as a sign of goodwill heading into the talks.

The plan for the farm visit was only announced a few days earlier and the sudden change of plans appears to have come on the back of comments from US President Donald Trump (The Don) saying that he wanted a complete trade deal with the Asian nation, not just an agreement from China to buy more agricultural goods from the United States.
But both sides moved quickly over the weekend to indicate that the negotiations will continue, and that high level talks pencilled in for October would still proceed. The two countries agreed to keep communicating on related issues and discuss the details of the next round of trade talks.

Negotiators on both sides have continued to look for an avenue to resolve their differences as tensions ratcheted up a notch or two over the northern summer. Both the US and China want to see a resolution to the long running dispute, particularly with the United States heading into elections in 2020.

However, plentiful global grain supplies and declining Chinese demand has dulled their appetite for imports. Overall feed grain demand in China is expected to decline amid substantially lower domestic swine inventories due to the continuing African Swine Flu epidemic.

It seems that the biggest hurdle facing negotiators on both sides may be agreeing on the scale and ambition of any deal they try to formalise. China wants to agree on a partial deal that would head off Washington’s planned tariff increases on Chinese imports in October. ‘The Don’ clearly wants a far more comprehensive deal.

US soybean exports have been the hardest hit by Trump’s brinkmanship and the Brazilian farmer has been the biggest beneficiary. One of the best barometers of the degree of tension surrounding US-China trade negotiations this year has been port price premiums paid for Brazilian soybeans over US soybeans. When the tensions escalate, premiums develop at the Brazilian port of Paranagua over US Gulf ports. Similarly, when tensions diminish the premiums slowly fade.

These price premiums have risen and fallen within the context of global price movements that have centred on the progress of the 2019 US crop. Prices rose in both Brazil and the US as the early season wet conditions hindered corn and soybean planting in the US and high water levels in the Mississippi River raised the cost of moving old crop soybeans to US Gulf ports. As conditions have improved over the past couple of months, prices of both Brazilian and US soybeans have trended lower.

The rise and fall of the Brazilian export premium correlates directly with the rise and fall of trade tensions. In May this year, the US announced plans to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese products from 10 to 25 per cent. Brazilian soybeans moved to a 7 per cent premium over US soybeans as a result. The premium gradually fell back to around 1 per cent by late July. However, a new round of tariff hikes that took effect on September 1 pushed Brazilian premiums up again to almost 10 per cent.

The concern for Australia is that any deepening of the trade impasse will potentially weaken an already vulnerable Australian economy. The trade crisis comes amid a weakened domestic housing market and stifled economic growth. The health of the Australian and Chinese economies is intricately linked. Our agricultural exports, mining exports, tourism exports and education exports all depend heavily on China.

As Don’s Party rolls on endlessly, China is beginning to admit its traditionally high rates of growth are in jeopardy. And the latest numbers tell the story. Industrial production growth fell to 4.4 per cent in August, its lowest in 17 years. Growth in retail sales also fell last month to 7.5 per cent. A lofty number by Australian standards but much lower than the 10 per cent growth consistently seen over the last ten years.

Beijing is now saying that it will be very difficult to grow at 6 per cent this year, well below the numbers seen in the years since the global financial crisis. If Chinese growth continues to decline it will undoubtedly be reflected in demand for Australian goods and will have countless flow on effects across the domestic economy.
The best result for all concerned, including Australia, would be a swift resolution to the standoff. No doubt this is front of mind for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he tours the United States and meets with The Don.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Kazakhstan increasing trade ties with China…

Posted by | Weekly Commentary | No Comments

Kazakhstan, one of the most important grain producers and exporters in the world, announced last week that it was aiming to triple its wheat exports to China to as much as 2 million metric tonne (MMT) annually, but no time frame was charted to reach the goal.

This announcement came in the same week that the USDA released its latest global supply and demand estimates and in Kazakhstan it cut the 2019/20 season wheat production by 1.5MMT to 11.5MMT. This is down from 14MMT last season, 14.8MMT in 2017/18 and well below the record of 22.7MMT produced in 2011/12. The decrease was blamed on deteriorating crop conditions after a sustained spell of dry weather ahead of harvest.

The USDA also decreased Kazakh exports by 1.3MMT to 5.2MMT on the back of the lower production number. To balance the books, the USDA increased 2019/20 opening stocks by 200,000 metric tonne, meaning that ending stocks were unchanged at 1.26MMT.

The Kazakhstan Ministry of Agriculture said that harvest is currently in full swing across all grain-producing regions of the country and it expected to export around 7MMT of grain and flour in the 2019/20 marketing year. The Central Asian nation is the world’s second-largest exporter of flour behind Turkey.

China is already a major importer of oil, gas and metals from Kazakhstan and in addition to wheat, the government said that they were looking to increase exports of barley, salt, meat, poultry and dairy products to China. Interestingly, Beijing only approved imports of Kazakh barley in late November last year, the same week that the anti-dumping probe was announced into barley imports from Australia.

Barley production is expected to be 3.9MMT this year, 1.7 per cent lower than last season’s record crop. The USDA increased both production and exports by 200,000mt in last week’s update. Iran continues to be the biggest importer of Kazakh barley, consistently buying upwards of 80 per cent of production each year.

The last republic to depart the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan is rich in natural resources and has enormous economic potential. It is the 9th largest country in the world with an area of 2.725 million square kilometers. But with a population of only 18.5 million, it has one of the lowest populated densities in the world at just seven people per square kilometer.
The agricultural sectors share of GDP is around 6 per cent, but like many of the former Soviet Union countries, Kazakhstan has enormous agricultural potential. The country is well endowed with fertile land but, like Australia, suffers environmental handicaps such as water availability and a harsh climate.

The total area suitable for primary production, including crops, pastures and grazing, notably the steppes, is approximately 222 million hectares. However, only around 24 million hectares, predominantly in the north of the country, is arable and suitable for broadacre cropping.Kazakhstan is a landlocked country, despite its access to the Caspian Sea. Remoteness from global markets and lack of direct access to ports are significant obstacles for grain exports. The country’s geographic isolation adds additional freight and logistics costs to both exports and imports.

Most Kazakh exports have traditionally been transported by road to neighboring importers such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China or barged across the Caspian Sea to the Caucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.

Alternatively, grain exports make their way to Russian and Georgian ports on the Black Sea for shipment to international buyers such as Italy, Turkey, Tunisia and Sweden. Small vessels, up to 5,000 metric tonne, can also travel from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov and then into the Black Sea via the Volga-Don Canal.

Increased trade relations between China and their Asian neighbors’ has been a focus for Beijing in recent years as they attempt to shore up alternative supply origins and pathways in the face of the trade war with the United States (US) and increased trade tensions with several other key suppliers.

This is where China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has the potential to be a game-changer for trade amongst many Central Asian countries, especially Kazakhstan. This ambitious project was the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among numerous countries spread across the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa.
The initiative was announced in 2013 with the purpose of restoring the ancient Silk Road. The scheme involves building a big network of roads, railways, maritime ports, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, and associated infrastructure projects.

Five railway routes and six international highways currently pass through Kazakhstan, connecting China and other Asian countries with Europe and the Middle East. But China wants to improve the speed and efficiency of freight movements and two of the BRI high-speed land corridors, one road and one rail, go straight through Kazakhstan.
In addition to improving trade pathways and reducing the cost of imports, the multi-trillion-dollar initiative is expected to open up and create new markets for Chinese exports and those of many Central Asian states.

While China pitches the initiative as an all-inclusive project for regional development, many nations perceive it as a strategic move by the Asian powerhouse to achieve significance and control at a regional level, and to play a more significant role at the global level, by building and controlling a China-focused trading network.
Like Kazakhstan, Russia is also looking to take advantage of the changing international trade flows emanating from the US-China trade war by increasing grain exports to China. Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, and it expects Beijing to approve imports of wheat from all production regions of Russia within a year.
In fact, Russia probably represents the biggest challenge to Kazakhstan’s goal of substantially increasing wheat trade with China in the coming years.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Check you're getting the best value from your grain marketing. Test Our Grain Prices