Trade and freight market optimists looking for a further boost from China’s dry bulk imports this year have not been disappointed. Global seaborne dry bulk trade, and shipping activity, has benefited greatly from additional commodity volumes purchased by Chinese buyers, especially iron ore, coal and soyabeans.

During the first seven months of 2017, a sturdy pace unfolded. However, in recent weeks, there were a few signs of a possible and not entirely unexpected slackening over the year’s remaining months. Prospects depend partly on assumptions about government policy measures affecting the economy and trade in particular, not all of which are easy to predict.

Support has been derived from the economy’s brisk performance. Economic activity in China, based on the GDP measure, now appears likely to maintain last year’s 6.7% rate in 2017 as a whole, instead of slowing as widely expected earlier. However, various restraining measures have been introduced and, after the second quarter’s 6.9% increase, subsequent quarterly periods may show a slackening pattern.

In the world’s biggest single commodity trade, China’s iron ore imports, remarkable strength has continued. The January–July 2017 total reached 626mt (million tonnes), a 44mt or 7.5% increase compared with last year’s same period. Nevertheless, there are doubts about whether the annual growth rate will be as high.

Steel production growth was a positive influence. Robust Chinese domestic demand was instrumental in raising crude steel production by 5% to 492mt in the first seven months of this year. Rising iron ore stocks at discharge ports also contributed greatly to the strength of ore imports.

Indications point to easing steel demand from construction and manufacturing over the months ahead, restraining steel output. Ore stocks at ports, which have exceeded 140mt, could be reduced. These changes may adversely affect purchases of iron ore from foreign suppliers.

Coal imports into China also have been performing strongly. In the January–July period this year, an extra 23mt was received. The addition raised the total volume (including low quality lignite) to 153mt, up by 18%, although relatively low levels in last year’s early months exaggerates the comparison.

Several signs suggest that coal import demand in the remainder of 2017 may not be quite so buoyant. Domestic coal production, which dominates the market, is reviving with growth of 5% to 1.7 billion tonnes in the first half. Further government controls on imports are being implemented, but great uncertainty surrounds the impact of these new regulations.

Another seaborne cargo trade closely watched is soyabeans, the third largest dry bulk commodity volume imported into China. This year’s first seven months saw Chinese oilseed crushing mills receiving 55mt of soyabeans, reflecting rapid 19% growth.

Despite rising soyabean output at domestic farms, vigorously expanding soyameal and soyaoil consumption boosts foreign beans purchases, which supply most of the market. Even if second half 2017 imports moderate, an upwards trend in annual volumes looks set to persist.

Richard Scott