opportunities for high-end and feed grains
The state’s stance on self-sufficiency in food grains varies by crop. Imports of staple grains (wheat and rice) are tightly controlled; minor crops, long overlooked by regulators, face fierce competition from efficient global suppliers.
Domestic wheat production, long concerned only with output, has ignored seed quality. Imports, largely for specialised use, fill the gap. For instance, Australian wheat, primarily used in bakery products and high-end Asian food, is acclaimed for its quality and green credentials.
Bilateral friction has failed to dint China’s appetite for Australian wheat. Australia is expecting a second consecutive bumper harvest, while northern hemisphere producers have been hit by bad weather and drought. At least 265,000 tonnes were shipped from Australia in June 2021, taking its total wheat exports to China to about 1.7 million tonnes for the 2020/21 marketing year. This was 22 percent higher than the volume China took for the full 2019/20 marketing year, making Australia its third-largest wheat exporter (following Canada and the US).
Over 90 percent of China’s barley supply is shipped in. Prior to anti-dumping measures against Australian barley, it dominated PRC imports. Supply was stable and cheaper than domestic grain. The malting industry consumes 3 million tonnes of barley annually; in 2019 over 60 percent was from Australia, which has won itself a reputation among beer producers, including big players like Tsingtao Beer. With little hope of local supply catching up, Australia’s global competitors have quickly filled the vacuum. In 2020, Australia still accounted for some 20 percent of the PRC market; the share was fully absorbed by Canada, Ukraine, France and Argentina in 2021. When relations warm, Australian barley will likely return to a strong market position; this will, however, be in a more diverse group of suppliers, as Australia itself diversifies its markets.
Demand for cheaper alternative feed is also driving imports, bypassing Beijing’s issues with Australia. PRC feed producers have increased the proportion of wheat and barley in their formulae since 2020, following instructions to reduce reliance on expensive corn and soymeal. Given its booming livestock sector, imported wheat and barley have started to flood China’s market. The current price of Australian wheat makes it irresistible to Chinese buyers; barley is sourced elsewhere.