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China turns to Indonesia to quench ethanol thirst in November

Singapore — Chinese ethanol imports surged to a total of 94,051 cu m in November, from 16,043 cu m in October, with both denatured and undenatured imports showing strong growth, latest customs data showed Thursday.

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Indonesia was the largest supplier of denatured ethanol to China in November after a hiatus of three months, with volumes reaching 59,924 cu m. The supply could have originated from the US, as the Southeast Asian country produces only a limited volume of ethanol, a trader said.

No imports were seen from Malaysia for the second straight month. US customs had previously reported exporting 50,602 cu m of denatured ethanol to Malaysia in September, and this could possibly be re-exported to China further out.

China also imported 3,780 cu m of denatured ethanol from Pakistan in November, up from a negligible volume in the previous month.

In total, China imported 66,868 cu m of denatured ethanol in November, up from 3,150 cu m in October and from 9.8 cu m in November 2017.

Following the onset of the China-US trade war, China has turned to other sources of ethanol to meet its needs, importing 88,358 cu m of denatured ethanol from Malaysia and 95,530 cu m of denatured ethanol from Indonesia over January-November.

Before the trade war erupted between the US and China, US denatured ethanol imports into China totaled 424,437 cu m during January-March, accounting for 99% of total denatured ethanol imports into China in the period.

Since the trade war started, ethanol imports from the US have fallen to 37.37% of China's total denatured ethanol imports of 258,544 cu m during April-November. The majority 99,466 cu m of denatured ethanol imports from the US was delivered in May, when the import duty was 45%.

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On the undenatured front, Pakistani products further strengthened their domination. China imported 27,159 cu m of undenatured ethanol from Pakistan in November, accounting for almost all of China's total imports of 27,182 cu m in the month. Imports from Pakistan had also risen 110.7% from October and 321% from a year ago.

Looking forward, Pakistani producers have forecast a smaller sugarcane harvest, possible falling by 15%-20% year on year for the upcoming session which will affect margins, though the depreciation of the Pakistani rupee against the dollar will provide a buffer.

On exports, China shipped 2,845 cu m of undenatured ethanol in November to North Korea.

--Donavan Lim, d.lim@spglobal.com

--Edited by Irene Tang, newsdesk@spglobal.com