April 24, 2003
Imports soar in 2002 - Cananda leads the way in shipping dry beans to the United States
By John Parker
At various times in the recent decade we closely watched the buying activities of countries like Mexico or the United Kingdom (UK) to evaluate their impact on our prices. Recently, the influence of imports and potential imports on prices of edible beans has become more important. U.S. imports of edible beans reached a peak of 106,263 metric tons for the year ending October 31, 2002 (recent period). That was more than triple the 30,124 tons imported four years earlier and 54 percent above the previous year.
The value for U.S. imports of edible beans (excluding seed beans) rose to $63.2 million in the recent period. That was triple the value reported for edible bean imports five years ago. The U.S. is now a leading world importer of edible beans, except for the large imports by India and other countries of South Asia.
In addition to the imports of edible dry beans, U.S. imports of bean and pea seed are in the range of 83,000 tons annually. The combination of imports of edible beans and bean seed probably puts total U.S. imports of dry beans in the vicinity of about 175,000 tons for 2002. About a tenth of the U.S. edible bean consumption in 2002 consisted of imports.
A spike in the wholesale prices for most classes of beans in the United States between September 2001 and the spring of 2002 created a setting that encouraged greater imports. The average price for imports from some countries remained attractive. The bean prices in Asia were more affected by regional prices than the way prices had climbed in North America.
The sharp reduction for U.S. edible bean production in 2001 to 867,000 tons contributed to much higher prices in the autumn and winter. A rebound for U.S. dry bean production to 1.33 million tons in 2002 may cause imports to drop back to some extent in 2003. However, China's bean exporters may seek to maintain a high share of the U.S. market for imported dry beans this year also.
For some of the large fields of the northern plains and the sandy soils of Michigan, edible beans are one of the best crops to grow in years of favorable weather. Other pulse crops are likely to have further gains in area planted because of price supports provided by the new farm bill.
Total U.S. exports of all pulses fell from 654,077 tons in 1998 to 395,037 tons in the first ten months of 2002. The ratio for exports of pulses to imports dropped from 5.7 in 1998 to only 1.9 in January-October of 2002. If the decline for exports of pulses continued at that pace as imports of pulses trended upward, the United States might be a net importer of pulses a few years down the road.
The trend may not continue as it did through 2002. The drought of 2001 hit edible bean production hard, and exports through food aid temporarily bolstered exports from accumulated stocks. U.S. imports of legume seed rose by a fourth to 86,401 tons in the first ten months of 2002.
The combined imports of edible beans and legume seed (mostly edible beans and peas) in the recent years were nearly the same as the quantity of U.S. exports of dry beans.
A view of the U.S. imports of edible beans from selected suppliers provides an idea of the trends underway.
Canada is deriving significant benefit from the duty-free trade in beans through NAFTA. The leading source of U.S. imports of dry beans in the last five years was Canada. Imports from Canada were relatively flat in the recent period, rising just 1 percent to 40,798 tons. However, that was more than triple the 12,681 tons imported five years earlier.
As the world's largest exporter of kidney beans and some other classes of beans sought by U.S. importers, the wide selection provided by China's exporters is appealing. China was the second major source of U.S. imports of dry beans in the recent period, when its deliveries rose 157.4 percent to 26,156 tons. Five years ago China provided only a fifth the quantity of beans to U.S. importers as it did in 2002.
China delivered larger quantities of certain types of beans to U.S. importers when prices were high during October-April of the 2001/02 season. It was possible to buy black beans under contract for future delivery in China in late 2001 for attractive prices, when prices in some U.S. wholesale markets were very high.
Farmers in southern China can grow beans under contract in irrigated areas when winter snows cover much of the farmland in the northern plains. China prefers to export more beans to the U.S. market, even if that means fewer beans for buyers in Iraq.
Deliveries of edible beans from Argentina to the U.S. in the recent period reached 7,347 tons, compared with no shipments in the previous period. Argentine exporters would like to expand future deliveries of beans to North America to cushion shocks left when Brazil buys very few beans.
Traders from Australia provided 990 tons of dry beans for U.S. importers in the recent period, which was in the same range as their shipments in each of the last five years. Dry weather and supply shortages prevented Australia from sharing in the recent U.S. boom in bean imports.
Although India is the leading world importer of pulses, its traders provide many different types of edible beans that are sought by U.S. customers in some specialty shops. Burma provides over a dozen types of beans for India's importers that are preferred by consumers in South Asia. U.S. imports of edible beans from India rose 44 percent in the recent period to 3,563 tons.
Special restaurants have some tasty dishes that include beans imported from Thailand. This contributed to U.S. imports of 2,877 tons of edible beans from Thailand in the recent period, which was 17 percent above the previous period. U.S. imports of beans from Thailand remained relatively steady in the last five years, partly because of strong demand from restaurants.
The beautiful irrigated fields in northern Peru near the Pacific Ocean have a climate that allows bean cultivation 12 months per year. This allows farmers there to grow the type of beans in great demand with high prices when farmers in much of North American are viewing snow. U.S. imports of dry beans from Peru fell nearly a fourth in the recent period to 2,409 tons, although the average price for arrivals was $1,265 per ton. Imports of large lima beans are made for high prices.
U.S. imports of beans from El Salvador increased about a fifth in the recent period to 2,931 tons, which was double the level delivered four years ago. Some growers of snow peas also grow varieties of dry beans for export.
Traders from Chile provided U.S. importers with 3,101 tons of edible beans in the recent period, for an average price of $729 per ton. Chilean edible bean production rebounded in 2002 in response to higher world prices. For a while, Chile's dry bean production had declined. However, much higher U.S. prices in the autumn and winter of 2001/02 encouraged a rebound in cultivation.
Some of the smaller suppliers of U.S. imports of dry beans in the recent period were Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Hong Kong. Ecuador has the same climate advantages in irrigated coastal areas as Peru to quickly grow the type of beans sought by U.S. importers. Ethiopia has some large lima beans and special fava beans, which are a delight to some importers and visitors of Ethiopian restaurants.
Outlook For 2003
Because of the 54 percent rebound for U.S. edible bean production in 2002, it might be expected that bean imports would decline in 2003. Yet, some foreign suppliers may seek to still gain a greater market in the U.S. in the coming year. Demand for specialty types of beans provided by India and Thailand are not likely to be greatly affected by an even larger harvest of dry beans in 2003.
A setting may emerge in the next several years that shows that it is easier to generate higher edible bean imports than to get a reduction for imports. China needs to satisfy some of the pent up demand for imported beans in Asia and the Mid East in 2003, which could be more easily accomplished if fewer beans were shipped to the U.S.
Canada, China, Argentina, India, Peru, Chili, Australia, El Salvador and Thailand shipped dry beans to the U.S. in 2002.