Chinese soybean buyers are asking sellers in the United States to delay cargoes due to be shipped in July until August, two sources familiar with the matter said, raising fears of cancellations like ones that roiled the market last year.
The contract renegotiations come as the world’s top two economies remain locked in a protracted trade war that prompted China to sharply cut purchases of the oilseed from its No. 2 supplier starting from the middle of last year.
Soybean imports from the U.S. virtually dried up in the second half of 2018, before Beijing agreed to buy nearly 14 million tonnes from American farmers over December to March during a temporary truce in the trade spat.
More than six million of those tonnes have already been shipped to China, but some seven million tonnes bought before talks broke down in May still need to be delivered.
Beijing’s state-owned companies are trying to roll about two million tonnes of July cargoes into August, said a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
“It isn’t a washout yet. But it is strange that (the state firms) suddenly wanted to delay all July shipments by a month now,” the source said.
A U.S. export broker confirmed that he had been approached by Chinese buyers to delay cargoes he sold them, and that he was working with them to execute the request. The total number of shipments shifted to August so far is well below the two million tonnes that buyers had sought to roll, the broker said. He declined to estimate the rolled volume.
Neither Sinograin, which manages China’s soybean reserves, nor top state grains trader COFCO Corp. responded to queries seeking comment on the issue.
Delaying shipments could exacerbate problems that U.S. exporters are already facing, with an unprecedented backlog of soybeans still to be shipped as widespread flooding in the U.S. Midwest challenges logistics.
A third source, a trader with an international trading company based in Beijing, said he doubted whether all the U.S. sellers would be willing to delay the shipments.
Rolling over to August is not a huge concern, said the sources, but any further delay after that would be problematic, with the U.S. new-crop harvest due in September set to swell stocks and push down prices.
China would incur steep penalties if it tried to cancel the orders, and it still needs the soybeans, traders have said.
Beijing might be trying to buy more time with the delay, one of the sources said, giving it the option to still cancel cargoes if its trade talks with Washington do not go well.
Some U.S. exporters were open to rolling shipments because more export-grade soybeans in storage in the upper Midwest farm belt would be available once flooded rivers recede and barge shipments resume.
Beijing recently decided to stockpile the remaining U.S. soybean cargoes waiting to be shipped, rather than crush them for immediate sale as a feed ingredient.