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 Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani
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 China soya imports heading for 20 million tonnes i

HONG KONG (July 23 2003) : China's soya imports are reaching 20 milliontonnes or more this year, almost double that in 2002, despite plans tocurb soyabean imports lasting about a month from late September, traderssaid on Tuesday.

"We are importing way more than any of us had expected," said a seniortrader at an international house.

"This year, we are close to 20 million tonnes already, regardless of whathappens."

It was only a few months ago when the market heard Beijing raised 2003import target to about 16 million tonnes from its earlier target of 12-14million tonnes.

Custom data showed China imported 10.15 million tonnes of soyabeans in thefirst half alone, up 211.6 percent from the same 2002 period.

Soy imports totalled 11.32 million tonnes in the whole of 2002.

To protect the interests of China's 800 million farmers, traders nowexpect Beijing to halt soya imports for about a month from September 20when interim rules facilitating imports of genetically modified organisms(GMOs) expire.

Asked about market concerns over the move, an official at the Ministry ofAgriculture told Reuters: "We will not restrict any imports. So long asthere is market demand, we will continue to import."

She added the ministry began accepting applications on Tuesday for GMOsafety certificates for imports arriving after September 20.

However, traders said six or seven vessels were currently stuck at portsas quarantine authorities, know as CIQ, have been extremely slow inissuing import permits (IP).

One boat has already been waiting nearly a month, they said. The number ofsuch boats is likely to rise in the next few weeks as many vessels arealready en-route to China without IPs.

On other hand, the CIQ is unlikely to relax its grip, they said, asChinese farmers started harvesting about 16 million tonnes of localsoyabeans in September, similar to the 2002 crop.

"In the middle of their harvest, they (the government) will play a littlebit of hard ball. I think importers have just to grind their teeth andaccept it," the first trader said.

"In the next two, three months, they are going to look for all kinds ofexcuse to prevent or delay discharges."

The traders agreed it was too late for most buyers to delay the shipment,or to wash out - sell back to the supplier at a fee - cargoes scheduled toreach China before September 20. They estimated 2.5 million tonnes weredue this month alone.

They also said stable domestic prices for soyabeans and soya products,despite heavy arrivals in China, pointed to the country's much strongerdomestic demand than had been expected.

"Meal and oil prices are stable. There is no need to curb soya imports,"said another trader in Beijing.

The first trader agreed. "Locally, right now bean and product inventoriesare building up. But demand is there," he said.

"Otherwise by June, we would have seen a collapse in the local market.Everybody underestimated demand".-Reuters