Brazil Becomes World's Top Corn Exporter Ahead of U.S.

Brazil Becomes World's Top Corn Exporter Ahead of U.S.

The former world leader in corn exports, the United States, is set to be usurped by Brazil this year as the South American country reports both a bumper harvest and a set of logistical breakthroughs. 

A Reuters analysis of grain shipping data demonstrates that Brazil’s northern ports - which use the waterways of the Amazon River basin to ship grain cargoes - are set to beat export volumes from the Port of Santos - which has traditionally been Brazil’s largest export port. 

Commenting on this development, Sergio Mendes, head of ANEC (the Brazilian grain export group), said: “We celebrated a lot… when (corn export) volumes via northern ports equalled Santos. By using northern ports you are saving 20 reais ($4.12) per ton (of corn)”.

The emergence of the northern ports shows how Brazil has managed to overcome many of its historical infrastructure issues which have tended to hamper the internal movement of goods and cargoes. 

Infrastructure development in Brazil has been particularly boosted by a 2013 law that encourages major grain traders like Cargill and Bunge to build out their own private-use port terminals (TUPs). The law has also resulted in a series of long-term port investments across Brazil as a whole. According to a study conducted by Brazil’s TCU federal audit court, over 39 billion reais have been invested into building and expanding 112 private-use terminals. 

The country is also benefiting from Chinese investment, with the Chinese state-owned trader COFCO building a major new grains terminal at the Port of Santos following receipt of a 25-year licence to operate a unit with capacity for 14 million tons.

In a further boost to the country, a new supply deal with China suggests that Brazil’s trip to the number one spot may become a sustained development (Brazil previously claimed the global number one spot during the 2012/13 season when the U.S. was hit by droughts). 

Furthermore, Brazil has also benefited from disruptions in global grain supply caused by the war in Ukraine. 

According to Conab - Brazil’s crop agency - Brazil’s total corn output for the 2023 season is expected to be nearly 130 million metric tons. This represents the country’s highest ever corn output. Export volume is expected to be 50 million metric tons - again, another first. 

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Anthony York
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