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Over-reliance on China holds risks for Brazil’s soybean exporters, analyst warns

The South American producer is doubling down on soybean production even as demand stagnates in China.

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UPDATED: 30 Dec 2023, 3:33 pm

Brazilian soybean exports in 2023 have passed 100 million metric tons. The sum is an increase of at least 16 percent over 2021’s record-breaking full-year total, but is over-reliant on the Chinese market, suggests Karen Braun, a market analyst for Reuters.

As the second-leading soybean exporter, the US is less reliant on China, Braun points out, with an average 56 percent of exports going to China over the last three market years versus Brazil’s 70 percent average. 

Both Brazil and the US have acknowledged that diversifying their soybean markets would be beneficial. It is unlikely to happen, though. China accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s annual soybean consumption and at least 60 percent of annual imports. The next largest importer, Mexico, accounts for just 4 percent of annual imports. 

[See more: Brazil looks set to become the world’s top cotton exporter]

Braun says that Chinese demand has stagnated in recent years and that Brazil is at further risk if a “black swan” event occurs, such as a political dispute between Brasilia and Beijing, or an outbreak of swine fever among China’s hog herd. The latter would reduce demand for soybeans, which are a key ingredient in hog feed. 

Brazil’s total soybean exports for the year should approach 101.5 million tons, based on estimates for December. That would put Brazil’s calendar-year exports nearly 60 percent higher than the US record of 63.65 million tons in 2020. 

The country importing the second highest amount of Brazilian soybeans in 2023 was Argentina, which bought 4 million tons. Braun said this was an “incredibly rare” purchase owing to Argentine crop failure.

UPDATED: 30 Dec 2023, 3:33 pm

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