China eases customs curbs for soy imports through northern border

A canyon on China’s frontier with Kazakhstan. (Luxiangjian4711/iStock/Getty Images)

Beijing | Reuters — China has eased customs regulations on imports of soybean through some northern border checkpoints, the commerce ministry said, a move that could smooth the way for shipments from neighbours such as Kazakhstan, Russia and perhaps Ukraine.

The changes come as China looks to diversify soybean imports amid trade tension with the United States, its second largest supplier of the oilseed, and could facilitate trade with the neighbouring countries, traders said.

Soybean importers can use one import license to clear cargoes up to six times, if the shipments go through some checkpoints in Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, the ministry said in a statement dated Dec. 31 and released on its website on Thursday.

“I think this policy aims to facilitate soybean trade with Russia,” said an industry source based in China’s northeastern region, who sought anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to media.

“But the volume (Russian shipments) is too small.”

One of the checkpoints, Alataw Pass, is on the border with central Asian neighbour Kazakhstan, while the other five border Russia. These are Heihe, Suifenhe, Fuyuan and Tongjiang in Heilongjiang and Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia.

Chinese soybean importers now require an automatic import licence for shipments. Current policy allows each permit to be used once to clear one batch of shipments through customs. The permit lasts for six months and can be renewed.

China has taken measures to increase farm goods purchases from Russia, amid warm diplomatic ties, aiming to cut reliance on U.S. imports.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said the first phase of a trade deal with China would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House, which could see removal of Beijing’s hefty tariffs on U.S. farm products, including soybeans.

China has imported 631,320 tonnes of soybeans from Russia in the first eleven months of 2019, when shipments from Kazakhstan amounted to 14,262 tonnes, official data show.

— Reporting for Reuters by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh.

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