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Argentina soybean exports may hit record high next year-exchange

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Argentine soybean exports to China could jump to a record 14 million tonnes this season if the trade war between China and the United States continues, the Rosario grains exchange said on Thursday, as output rebounds from last year's drought.

China has all but stopped buying soybeans from the United States. This has driven down the price of U.S. beans. As a result, U.S. soy crushers are shipping to soymeal markets previously supplied by Argentina, which in turn is exporting more raw beans, mainly to China.

With Argentine crushing plants working at only 55 percent capacity, the country is expected to increase its shipments of raw beans after the next harvest starts in March.

"Under current conditions, in which shipment from North America to China have slowed sharply, we would expect a big increase in the export of raw soybeans from Argentina," said Emilce Terre, head analyst at the exchange located in Argentina's main grains exporting hub of Rosario.

She said soybean exports could hit 14 million tonnes, up from the country's previous record high of 13.3 million tonnes in the 2009/10 crop year.

In the 2017/18 season, which was hobbled by months of hot, dry weather on the Pampas farm belt, Argentina exported only 4 million tonnes of beans versus 7.2 million tonnes in the 2016/17 crop year, according to exchange data.

Exporting soyoil and soymeal from the crushing plants that dot the banks of the Parana River is usually more profitable for Argentina than exporting raw beans. But the trade war has turned that equation on its head, making bean exports more profitable.

The price of soybeans in the United States plummeted since China placed a 25 percent tariff on imports, making U.S. soymeal and soyoil manufacturing more cost effective than in Argentina.

Analysts say 95 percent of Argentine soybean exports are currently going to China. The rest go to Asian countries like Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts Argentina's 2018/19 soybean exports at 10.0 million tonnes, up sharply from what the USDA estimated was a 4.1 million tonnes of soybeans shipped overseas in the previous year.

Argentina's upcoming harvest is expected to reach 55.5 million tonnes, according to the USDA, versus 37.8 million tonnes in the previous, drought-hit, season. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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