China soybean imports
Soybean production and imports in China. Note: Dashed line and light-colored bars represent the projection period. Source: USDA, ERS, based on the USDA 2016 International Baseline data product.
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — With China’s policies continuing to favor grain production over soybeans and its feed and livestock industries expected to continue growing, the country’s demand for imported soybeans is projected to remain strong over the next decade, increasing from 83 million tonnes in 2016-17 to 109.5 million tonnes in 2025-26, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).

China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans. Its dominance as an importer reflects government policies that favor imports of soybeans over feed grains, coupled with dietary shifts toward more animal proteins, which creates a strong demand for soybean meal used for livestock feed rations. 

In 1995, China adopted a policy of 95% self-sufficiency for grains, and from 2008-12 the country increased price supports for wheat, rice, and corn at higher rates than those for soybeans, making soybean production less attractive to farmers and resulting in an 18% decline in domestic production while soybean imports jumped 50%. China’s border policies also favor soybean imports. 

Import tariffs for soybeans are lower than those for soybean meal or oil, resulting in China’s oilseed-crushing industry becoming the largest in the world, and supplied mainly with imported soybeans.