China's long-term import needs of major crops, besides beef,
pork and poultry, look higher than had been thought, Washington officials said,
warning of a dent to the country ag output prospects from a subsidy shake-up.
US Department of Agriculture, in a much-watched forecast for
world agricultural commodity trade, lifted expectations for Chinese imports of rice,
wheat and, especially, soybeans as of 2025-26.
The forecast for soybean imports that season was hiked by 8.1m
tonnes to 117.6m tonnes, equivalent to two-thirds of estimated global shipments
at the time – meaning China's stranglehold over trade in the oilseed is
expected to strengthen even further from current levels.
In the protein sector, the USDA nudged higher its forecast
for China's beef imports as of 2025-16 by 60,000 tonnes to 1.25m tonnes, but
more than doubled, to 2.37m tonnes, its estimate for pork buy-ins, ranking the country
as by far the biggest buyer.
For poultry imports, the estimate for volumes in nine
seasons' time was more than doubled too, to 669,000 tonnes, although this would
still keep China behind leaders such as Mexico, Japan and Saudi Arabia in the global
'May constrain production'
The upgrades came as the USDA cautioned over a potential
dent to Chinese agricultural reforms, including environmental protection laws,
and a reform of crop subsidies which, in guaranteeing prices to producers, have
promoted the build-up of huge state inventories in the likes of corn and
"These strategies may constrain domestic production," the
USDA said in its annual long-term agricultural projections report.
USDA forecasts for Chinese crop imports, 2025-26, and (change on forecast a year ago)
Soybeans: 117.6m tonnes, (+8.1m tonnes)
Corn: 5.9m tonnes, (-400,000 tonnes)
Rice: 4.80m tonnes, (+740,000 tonnes)
Wheat: 3.4m tonnes, (+2.0m tonnes)
Cotton: 14.3m bales, (-900,000 bales)
While one impact may be to shift area from corn, of which
China has particularly large inventories, to the likes of soybeans and spring
wheat, the briefing flagged too the prospect of the removal of some land from
"China has programmes to shift land from grain production to
forest and grass and to cut production in areas contaminated with heavy metals
and shrinking underground aquifers."
Import needs grow
In livestock too, "environmental regulations", besides high production
costs "are constraining production growth", leaving China more reliant on
"High domestic meat prices have prompted China to rely on
imports to satisfy part of its demand for animal protein," the USDA said.
The forecast came despite acknowledgement by the USDA that "China's
slowing economy, food safety and animal disease concerns, and high prices have
slowed the pace of growth in demand for livestock products".
The USDA also highlighted that, with many of China's farm reforms
experimental, "their long-term impact on China's agricultural supply and demand
In wheat, the USDA hiked by 2.0m tonnes to 3.4m tonnes its
forecast for China's imports in 2025-26, although this remains well below forecasts
for the likes of Egypt, seen remaining the top buyer, with shipments expected
at 13.1m tonnes at the time.
USDA forecasts for Chinese meat imports, 2025, and (change on forecast a year ago)
Beef: 1.251m tonnes, (+61,000 tonnes)
Pork: 2.37m tonnes, (+1.23m tonnes)
Poultry: 675,000 tonnes, (+344,000 tonnes)
"China has a surplus of wheat, but is short of wheat
suitable for use in bakery and specialty products," the USDA noted.
In rice, the forecast China's import needs in nine seasons'
time was revised up by 770,000 tonnes to 4.83m tonnes, maintaining the country's
position as, by a distance, the top buyer of the grain – albeit a figure in
line with the 4.70m tonnes the USDA expects for the current season.
Cotton demand boost
However, in cotton, the USDA cut its estimate for China's imports
in 2025-26 by 900,000 bales to 14.3m bales, despite a boost to consumption
expected from the lower values that the removal of guaranteed prices has
"By allowing domestic cotton prices to fall, China is expected
to recover part of the share of world cotton consumption it lost between 2009
"China's cotton imports are expected to increase throughout
the next decade with stronger growth in the second half of the projection