According to a recent report from the USDA, China’s corn imports jumped to a record 11.3 million metric tons in 2020, more than twice the volume imported in past years. The increase reflected rapidly increasing Chinese corn prices and China’s commitment to buy U.S. agricultural products under the Phase One trade agreement between China and the United States. Corn is the predominant ingredient in China’s growing animal feed production and is widely used in other food, starch, and alcohol products.
In past years, a cumbersome import quota made it difficult for Chinese feed mills and processors to import corn, so they often imported substitutes such as sorghum, barley, distillers’ grains, cassava, and field peas that have low prices and no quotas. Imports of all feed ingredients were relatively low during 2019 because of high tariffs on U.S. commodities and a lull in feed demand due to a disease epidemic that reduced China’s swine herd. In 2020, imports of corn and its substitutes increased to a combined total of more than 30 million metric tons. Large purchases by Chinese state-owned companies and a rapid increase in Chinese corn prices appear to have driven the increase in corn imports—which exceeded the quota for the first time. Rebuilding of the swine herd and waivers of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. sorghum may have contributed to the increase in imports of substitutes. However, imports of U.S. distillers’ grains were still constrained by high duties imposed by a 2016 Chinese anti-dumping investigation.
This chart appeared in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s Feed Outlook, May 2021.