Brazil dominates China soybean, corn imports in 2023: customs

22 Jan 2024 | Regina Koh

China imported a total of 69.95 million mt of soybeans from Brazil in 2023, 28.6% more than in 2022, with soybean imports from the South American country coming in at 4.98 million mt in December, according to data from the country’s General Administration of Customs (GACC) released over the weekend.

Ample supply following a strong harvest and attractive prices led to Chinese buyers picking up more Brazilian beans over the course of the year, even during months when US-origin soybeans would usually dominate imports.

As such, Brazilian beans formed 70.3% of the total 99.4 million mt of soybeans imported in 2023, up from 61% in 2022, while the US's share in soybean imports fell to 24.3% from 31%.

Chinese imports of US soybeans came to 24.21 million mt in 2023, 12.9% less than in 2022, with December volumes seen at 3.85 million mt.

While the level in December was higher than November’s 2.295 million mt, logistical difficulties in the Panama Canal and Mississippi River also slowed movement of US soybeans to China in the last quarter of 2023 and curtailed the volume of imports, though the level is expected to pick up in the first quarter of 2024.

Brazilian corn dominates as China diversifies supply sources

Brazil also topped China’s list of corn suppliers in 2023, with total corn shipments from the country coming to 12.8 million mt in 2023 after Chinese customs cleared 4.01 million mt of Brazilian corn in December.

The South American country’s market share in China’s corn imports has grown exponentially after China approved of Brazilian corn imports in 2022 as part of measures to diversify its agricultural supply, with a bumper crop also helping to retain its price competitiveness against other competitors.

China also approved imports of South African corn in 2022, with corn shipments from South Africa reaching 164,965 mt in 2023.

The growth in Brazilian corn imports to China also comes at the expense of traditional suppliers such as the US, with total imports of US corn in 2023 falling by 51.9% on the year to 7.14 million mt after December volumes came in at 647,000 mt.

Corn imports from Ukraine – another traditional corn supplier of China’s – also grew in 2023, rising by 5% to 5.52 million mt.

China's corn imports in 2023 reached 27.1 million mt – the second highest level ever – while volumes on a 2022/23 marketing year basis were at 18.7 million mt. 

For 2024, Argentinian corn could also make a play for China’s import share, after both countries agreed on a new export protocol in May 2023 to facilitate more corn flows to China and as Argentina’s corn crop recovers from losses due to dry weather during the 2022/23 crop year.