BEIJING, CHINA — Modest growth in the animal protein sector is expected to raise China’s soybean imports to 97 million tonnes in the 2023-24 marketing year while the country’s removal of COVID-related restrictions is expected to boost overall oilseed consumption, according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The report noted that, based on data from the General Administration of Customs China, imports surged following the government’s removal of zero-COVID-19 policies in December, reaching a combined 16.2 million tonnes in January and February, a 16% year-on-year increase. China is projected to import 96 million tonnes of soybeans in 2022-23.

Meanwhile, China continues to emphasize greater domestic oilseed production, particularly soybeans. Following significant gains in harvested area and production in 2022-23, more modest gains are forecast in 2023-24, according to the USDA. China’s soybean output for 2023-24 is forecast at 19.8 million tonnes, while harvested area is projected at 10 million hectares.

“The extent to which area and production are maintained or increased will largely depend on subsidy levels provided for planting soybeans compared to corn,” the USDA said.

Soybean crush volume is forecast at 95 million tonnes in 2023-24, compared with an estimated 94 million this year, the report said. Total protein meal feed use is forecast to increase 1.4% year-on-year to 98.1 million tonnes. The USDA noted that relatively high prices for soybean meal and low returns in the swine and poultry sector continue to disadvantage soybean meal inclusion in feed.