Argentine barley shipments have started streaming toward China after a three-year lull as a trade conflict between Asia’s top buyer and main supplier Australia changes global supply flows of the grain used for livestock feed and beer.
Argentina is on track to send at least 250,000 tonnes this year and a record 380,000 tonnes in 2021, according to export licences and private company declarations seen by Reuters. That is up from virtually nothing in 2019.
“We loaded a ship on Sunday with 65,000 tonnes headed for China. And we have three or four shipments scheduled for January,” said an Argentina-based trader with an international grains company who asked not to be named.
“China turned toward us this year because of its conflict with Australia,” the trader said, referring to a political spat that saw China slap steep anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Australian barley imports in May.
Eugenia Rul, head analyst at the Bahia Blanca Grains Exchange, said that prior to the Sunday shipment Argentina had sent 160,000 tonnes of barley to China in the last two months.
Argentine feed barley is shipped to Saudi Arabia, where it is used to feed camels, while its beer barley has gone mostly to South American brewers. Australia was China’s main supplier.
“It’s clear that China is choosing Argentina, very aggressively, as a new provider of barley,” said Agustin Baque, a farm consultant and commodities trader specialising in barley, based in the Atlantic port city of Necochea.
Baque said the China-Australia conflict was pushing up demand for both beer and feed barley. “For 2021 we have business confirmed for 380,000 tonnes of Argentine barley to be exported to China, 180,000 of which will be malting barley,” he said.
He said Argentine barley exports to China next year could reach as much as 800,000 tonnes depending on prices and the Australia-China trade relationship.
China is the top global importer of malt barley for brewing beer. It also uses the grain to feed livestock.
“We are going to play (in) Australia’s market basically because Australia is now looking to sell it’s barley someplace other than China,” said Robbie Cameron, a grower in the southern Buenos Aires agricultural area of Loberia.
“Australia is going to compete for our usual feed barley market, which is Saudi Arabia, and our malting barley markets in South America, so we are going to have to look at different places as well, like China,” he added.
With the best soils of the Pampas spread over an area larger than the size of France, Argentine growers said that if the China-Australia trade spat stretches into 2021, there will be plenty of room to plant more barley to meet increased demand.
Australia’s barley output – estimated at 10.2 million tonnes in the 2020/21 crop year according the US Department of Agriculture – dwarfs Argentina’s 3.5 million tonnes.