Following lower-than-expected dairy imports into China last year, uncertainty surrounding Chinese imports continued during the first two months of 2023, with similar year-on-year (y-o-y) import declines in some dairy categories. Meanwhile, other categories bounced back significantly in the year to date.
The largest y-o-y import declines in the January-February 2023 period were in whole milk powder (WMP) (95,557 tonnes, -68% y-o-y), butter (15,644 tonnes, -25% y-o-y), and cream (35,552 tonnes, -17% y-o-y), according to Trade Data Monitor. Meanwhile, the increasing dairy commodity imports were whey (112,568 tonnes, +63% y-o-y), mainly from the US and EU, lactose (20,510 tonnes, +35% y-o-y), and infant formula (49,380 tonnes, +35% y-o-y), due to the increase in birth rates after pandemic.
The high stocks in some commodities, such as WMP, and elevated international prices, together with production growth of domestic milk severely impacted Chinese dairy imports throughout 2022. The zero-tariff policy on dairy imports during January was expected to have greater influence on imported volumes, according to market participants, but the pace of imports in February suggests the reopening of the Chinese economy may result in higher dairy imports in the coming months. Furthermore, the question remains if milk production will continue to grow this year, with lower anticipated international prices, depleted stocks and higher farmgate prices than EU and New Zealand counterparts.