harvest19 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.

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.

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