China's Cancellation of Wheat Shipments from U.S., Australia Rattles Global Market
China's Cancellation of Wheat Shipments from U.S., Australia Rattles Global Market

China's Cancellation of Wheat Shipments from U.S., Australia Rattles Global Market

  • 10-Apr-2024 3:47 PM
  • Journalist: Bob Duffler

Chinese buyers have delivered a significant blow to the global wheat market by abruptly cancelling substantial shipments, reportedly in a bid to negotiate better prices and shore up the nation's food security. Presently, Chicago wheat futures are holding steady at around $5.50 per bushel, showing a slight uptick from mid-March's three-and-a-half-year low but still reflecting a decrease of about 10% since the beginning of the year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disclosed last month the cancellation of 504,000 tonnes of wheat sales to China, a figure representing roughly half of the total U.S. wheat exports to China in 2022 and marking the most extensive cancellation recorded since 1999. Despite being the world's leading grain importer, Chinese buyers have yet to furnish an explanation for these cancellations.

Although grappling with an economic downturn, the price of food typically exhibits less volatility in response to economic fluctuations compared to commodities such as crude oil and copper. The demand for food-grade wheat imports in China surged following the flooding in Henan province last summer, which compromised the quality of the harvest in the nation's primary wheat-producing region. In response, Chinese buyers inked substantial contracts for high-quality wheat from Australia, Canada, and the United States. However, Russia, the leading global wheat exporter, substantially escalated low-cost shipments after yielding two consecutive bumper crops. Consequently, benchmark Chicago wheat prices have currently plunged to approximately 30% below their peak in July 2023.

Upon the arrival of additional wheat contracts in China, it appeared that their prices exceeded prevailing market rates, prompting the cancellations. Notably, China has refrained from augmenting imports of Russian wheat due to non-compliance with its standards, instead opting to procure more wheat from France and Kazakhstan. Chinese buyers are renowned for their sensitivity to price fluctuations. In the spring of 2023, they abruptly cancelled 1.1 million tonnes of U.S. corn purchases, subsequently ramping up imports from Brazil due to an oversupply that drove down prices.

In light of domestic price hikes and escalating tensions with the United States (U.S), the Chinese government has heightened its focus on food security since last year. A food security law slated to take effect in June is geared towards bolstering domestic grain production and diversifying imports. China aspires to attain eventual self-sufficiency in wheat and rice production, exerting greater pressure to curtail imports of these grains compared to corn and other grains primarily utilized for animal feed.

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