United States Boosts Share in South Korea’s Soybean Oil Market

The South Korean soybean oil market was a featured topic in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) monthly update, February Oilseeds: Markets and Trade.
The original story is reprinted below:
South Korea continues to be a key agricultural market for U.S. exporters; it is the fifth largest market reaching over $6.8 billion in 2017. With livestock, grains, and horticultural products leading the way, South Korea has also rebounded from a relatively lean period, importing over $200 million in soybean oil and $600 million in all oilseeds and products.
In particular, the soybean oil market has been a great success story for U.S. agriculture. Korean imports of soybean oil have been largely supplied by price-competitive Argentina, followed by the United States and regional suppliers such as Vietnam and Thailand. Historically, the United States has maintained a relatively small market share, reaching 23 percent in 2015/16. In 2016/17 the U.S market share jumped to 45 percent, which translates to an additional $80 million increase in exports compared to 2015/16.
Several factors have contributed to the higher U.S. share. The domestic market is quite competitive and price sensitive, but recent FAS reports (GAIN Report KS1801 of Jan 17 2018) show that end users are becoming more appreciative of the qualitative characteristics of U.S. soybean oil, such as taste and color. Most notably, the golden color of U.S. soybean oil is a key factor in U.S. products being preferred over Argentine, which reportedly have a red tint. Additionally, due to the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, U.S. producers have an increasing edge in tariffs over their Argentine counterparts, as Argentina faces a tariff rate of 5.0 percent compared to the 2.2 percent for U.S. exporters. Soybean oil tariffs will continue to decrease until phased out in 2022, underpinning the price competitiveness of U.S. products. While this may seem small in percentage points, it can be a key decision factor in the crude soybean oil market where margins are thin.
On the global level, the dynamics of the soybean oil market may change. Rapidly changing policies, especially in the European and U.S. biodiesel markets, could alter incentives for Argentine soybean oil producers and increase competitive pressure in the Korean market. However, the promising first quarter of MY2017/18 (Oct/Sep basis) for exports of U.S. soybean oil, coupled with the aforementioned favorable micro- and macro-economic factors, suggest another strong year for U.S. soybean oil exports to Korea.