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Record China grain imports to keep U.S. prices rising

By Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Expected record Chinese imports of corn and soybeans in the coming seasons will continue to absorb U.S. supplies and keep prices on an upward trend, Chicago-based consultancy AgResource Co said on Wednesday.

Chinese demand has fuelled a rally in grain markets in the past year and sparked a jump in U.S. corn futures on Tuesday as massive exports of U.S. corn and corn-based ethanol were reported.

China's soybean imports could rise to around 110 million tonnes in the 2021/22 crop year, surpassing a potential 103-105 million tonnes over the 2020/21 crop cycle, Dan Basse, president of AgResource, told the Paris Grain Day conference.

China has already reported record soybean imports of 100 million tonnes for the 2020 calendar year.

For corn, also increasingly used by China to feed its pig herd being rebuilt after a disease epidemic, Chinese imports were seen at about 25-27 million tonnes in 2020/21, including 18-20 million from the United States, Basse forecast.

Chinese corn imports could range between 25 million and 40 million tonnes in the coming years, he added.

Other analysts have also projected that China's corn imports and soybeans will surge.

China already imported a record 11.3 million tonnes of corn in 2020, as it faced spiralling domestic corn prices.

"We've been talking for years about trying to find a new demand driver and that demand driver is now coming from our friends in China," Basse said.

A trade deal between Beijing and Washington would contribute to Chinese demand being focused on U.S. supplies, Basse and Rosa Wang, analyst with Chinese consultancy JCI, told the conference.

JCI expected China to buy more U.S. wheat this year, after making limited purchases in recent months, as part of its push to bring in more U.S. farm goods, Wang said.

Supply tensions and rising prices in grains and oilseeds could last for up to two years, Basse said, adding that higher prices were needed to push U.S. farmers to plant as much corn and soybeans as possible.

There was potential for U.S. soybean prices to reach $15-$17 a bushel and corn $5.70-$6, surpassing multi-year highs struck this month, he said. (Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman)

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