Chinese Grain Imports Grew Sharply This Year, Possibly Due to Domestic Crop Yields’ Decline

December 11, 2020 Updated: December 11, 2020

In the first 11 months of this year, China imported 99.718 million tons of grain, up 29.6 percent year-on-year.

The Chinese regime keeps a tariff rate quota (TRQs) system for wheat, corn and rice imports, meaning imports of a specified quantity will be subject to a lower tariff while those exceeding the benchmark will be subject to higher tariffs. The rate for imported corn within the quota is as low as 1 percent. Tariffs on imports in excess of the quota could reach up to 65 percent.

This year, China’s corn quota is set at 7.2 million tons, as shown in regulations issued by Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission, according to a Dec. 8 report by Chinese business magazine Caixin. 

From January to October this year, corn imports reached 7.28 million tons—the first time China’s corn imports surpassed its annual tariff quota. The figure also represents a surge of 97.3 percent over the same period last year. In October alone, corn imports reached 1.14 million tons, more than 12 times the volume last October.

China also imported 92.803 million tons of soybeans from January to November, a rise of 17.5 percent year-on-year.

On Dec. 1, Indian grain officials expressed that China had imported 100,000 tons of rice from their country due to tighter supplies in Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam. This is the first time for China to import  rice from India in nearly 30 years, according to a report by Hong Kong-based finance news outlet FX168.

A report on Caixin attributed China’s surge in grain imports to price gaps between international and domestic markets and the resumption of China’s animal husbandry following the decimation of hog populations by African swine fever.

Corn, wheat, and soybeans serve not only as grains but also as common feed for poultry and livestock.

However, some industry insiders believe that the recent spike in grain imports was due to crop failure following massive flooding in many parts of China, lasting from early June to end of September this year.

Chinese authorities have previously denied that there had been a grain shortage, but China’s agricultural companies said otherwise. 

On Oct. 19, Xinliang Grains and Vegetable Oils Industry Co. of Jiangxi Province issued a notice, which was later leaked online: “Rice yields have been hit hard by this [COVID-19] outbreak, natural disasters, and two months’ rainfall that occurred close to harvesting season in major production regions, leading to a 30 percent sharp decline.” 

The company said that it had to “readjust all rice prices since Oct. 19, 2020.”

That day, Yangtze Greenland Industry Co. of Hubei Province reminded in a letter to clients that the price of rice crops has increased due to crop failure and COVID-19.

The following day, Jinyinfeng Grains Reserve Co., also of Hubei Province, released a similar notice.