Canada has made a “small amount” of new canola seed sales to China, but exports to Canada’s biggest canola customer aren’t back to normal.
Not even close.
“We are aware of a small amount of (canola seed) sales that have occurred (to China),” Brian Innes, the Canola Council of Canada’s vice-president of communications said in an interview July 22.
“It’s a sign of hope that there are some new sales, however, two of our largest exporters (Richardson International and Viterra) continue to be blocked and the amount of sales is far less than what would happen under normal market conditions.”
Meanwhile, two market analysts don’t see that happening soon. And while they expect Canada will continue to make small canola seed sales to China in the upcoming 2019-20 crop year, the impact of China’s canola trade restrictions, if not resolved, will be potentially even bigger a year from now.
In early March China complained there was weed seed and plant disease contamination in Canadian canola.
The Canola Council of Canada announced March 21 that China was halting new purchases of Canadian canola.
Why it matters: Canada’s canola industry relies heavily on China, which accounted for 40 per cent of Canadian canola exports in 2018, worth $2.7 billion.
While Canada disputes China’s claims, China refuses to meet to try and resolve the issue leaving many to speculate China is punishing Canada for arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the United States’ request in December 2018.
Since March Canadian canola exports have increased to some other countries, but not enough to offset what’s expected to be an extra million tonnes of potentially price-depressing canola carry-over at the end of the crop year July 31.
The carry-over could grow even larger a year from now if the trade dispute isn’t resolved, MarketsFarm analyst Mike Jubinville said in an interview July 22. (MarketsFarm is owned by Glacier FarmMedia, which also owns the Manitoba Co-operator.)
Innes declined to comment on when the new sales to China were made, the volumes or when the canola will ship.
New canola sales to China are likely ‘new crop’ to be exported after the 2019 harvest, Jubinville said.
“There’s a big difference between making a sale and when it ships,” he said.
Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) data shows Canada exported canola seed to China in April, May and June, raising questions about whether China has completely banned Canadian canola seed imports as has been reported.
“What we have said from the beginning is that canola seed buyers in China have been unwilling to purchase seed,” Innes said. “We said in March that their unwillingness to purchase affected new purchases. There were a number of sales on the books for those exporters who are able to export and what we’re seeing in the statistics is those sales on the books that were executed.”
In March China revoked Richardson International and Viterra’s export registrations, preventing Canada’s two largest grain companies from exporting canola to China, even if China was buying.
When asked to describe the current state of Canada’s canola trade with China, Innes replied:
“Our exports are blocked — that’s not fully blocked — but our exports are clearly not what they would be without interference.
“The government remains focused on resolving the barriers facing our canola as quickly as possible. As an industry we also continue to be focused on diversification.”
In a July 25 email he added: “I cannot confirm specific details about current or future sales. Canola seed exporters all report that there is significant uncertainty about the potential for future seed sales, and deliveries to China.”
Canada exported a total of 228,880 tonnes of canola (51,200, 112,00 and 65,680) in April, May and June CGC data shows. That’s down an average of 84 per cent from the 1.41 million exported in those same three months last year.
(Total Canadian canola exports this crop year as of June 30 were almost 8.6 million tonnes, down 10 per cent from the 9.6 million tonnes exported during the same period last year.)
It’s normal for China to import most of the canola it buys from Canada between September and late January, Jubinville said. That’s why total Canadian canola exports to China as of June 30, with one month left in the current crop year, are down just 15 per cent from 2017-18.
China imported most of its Canadian canola before March when new Chinese seed purchases stopped.
“My feeling is the ultimate impact… on how it’s really going to affect our burgeoning supply of canola doesn’t happen this year, it happens next year because that’s when we’ll start to really load up (on canola stocks),” Jubinville said.
The drop in Canadian canola exports to China late this crop year could result in an extra one million tonnes of canola carry-over when the crop year ends July 31, he said.
“Next year it’s going to be 2.5 million tonnes (extra canola carry-over) if we don’t get a resolution to this issue,” Jubinville said.
Instead of exporting the usual 4.25 million tonnes of canola to China in 2019-20, Jubinville has a hunch it will be just 1.5 million to 1.8 million tonnes.
“There will be 2.5 million tonnes (of canola) that will have to find a new home,” he said.
“Some will go to different markets but there is no buyer community out there to absorb that.”
But a lot can happen between now and then, including Canada harvesting a smaller canola crop this fall, offsetting some of the expected jump in supply.
Reduced canola plantings next spring and a smaller harvest in 2020 would also shrink stocks.
And there’s always the possibility, even though it seems unlikely now, that normal canola exports to China will soon resume.