Investments in Belarus crushing and the development of new processing facilities have driven a sharp increase in soybean imports over the past 5 years. Imports were minimal prior to marketing year 2015/2016, when Belarus began developing its crushing sector. In the following 2 years, imports more than doubled annually, reaching 343,000 tons in 2017/18. Growth has continued at a pace of around 100,000 tons per year, and is expected to reach 540,000 in 2019/2020.
Belarus soymeal exports grew nearly ten-fold from 2016/2017 to 2017/2018 and are forecast to grow to 300,000 tons in 2020/2021. While meal imports are still stronger than exports, this difference is narrowing as livestock and poultry feed demands are increasingly met by domestic crushing.
Soybean oil exports have grown even more dramatically, from 1,000 tons in 2015/2016 to 50,000 four years later. With production more than sufficient to meet domestic demand, soybean oil imports are expected to cease this year.
Belarus has sourced soybeans nearly exclusively from its Black Sea neighbors. While Ukraine had long been the origin of its imports, Russia began to export soybeans to Belarus in spring 2018, but remained a secondary supplier. Russia’s record soybean crop in 2019/2020 caused prices to decline, initiating a flurry of exports. In April 2020, a greater share of soybean imports were sourced from Russia than Ukraine.
While this trend towards Russian supply was initiated by market conditions, it was cemented by a Eurasian Economic Commission decision to ban exports of soybeans and other food products to countries outside of the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia and Belarus (but not Ukraine) are members. Ostensibly to prevent the risk of a pandemic-induced food shortage, this decision restricted the exports of Russia soybeans to major markets from April through June 2020.
Although this ban was not fully enforced, reduced competition provided Belarus crushers priority access to Russia’s competitively priced supply. With lower exportable supplies available from both Russia and Ukraine in 2020/2021, the rapid growth in crush is expected to halt, falling slightly to 520,000 tons. However, if crushers broaden their supply chain to include new origins, then additional growth is possible.
As of this publication, USDA’s Production Supply and Distribution database expands to include soybeans and soybean oil for Belarus back to market year 2015/2016 (soybean meal data alrady exists back to 1992/93). This addition accounts for much of the change in soybean trade balances this month.