China is coming – for your barley.

Grain | 12th February 2024 | By Andrew Whitelaw

The Snapshot

  • We lost access to China in May 2020, but the tariff was removed in August 2023.
  • China had been a huge buyer of Australian barley in the past, up to 90% in January 2021 and just under 80% annually.
  • China started buying barley almost as soon (or even before) the tariff was removed.
  • In December, China bought 90% of our barley exports.
  • From September to December, the first four full months of trade, China has purchased 77% of our barley exports.
  • China will be our most significant barley buyer, and our newly opened markets will be a memory.

The Detail

We now have five months of data on barley exports to China since they reopened the trade with us.

Over recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how, as a nation, we need to diversify our barley away from China (see here). This was important during the time when we lost China, but is it still as important?

Let’s look back at history.

The Australian barley trade was heavily focused on China for the middle part of the last decade, with just shy of 80% of our barley heading to China at one point. This was a huge volume and a huge reliance on one trading partner.

So, from the middle of 2020, we haven’t sent any barley to China. Then, in 2023, two years prior to the pencilled-in end of the tariff, China opened up to Australian supplies.

The first chart below shows the Australian trade in barley to China and the rest of the world. It was August when China was open to trade, and they quickly started taking volume. Despite only being able to take volume for the last five months of the year, China took 30% of Australian barley exports for the calendar year.

Chinese volumes increased dramatically to hit extreme levels in December. The second chart shows the market share that China has become.

In December, China took a whopping 90% of all the Australian barley exported.

So China is back, and they are buying big licks.

90% is a huge volume for one particular country to purchase, especially in December. If we look historically, December is usually our largest month for exports.

Only in one other month, January 2019, has China reached 90% of our overall exports. While we had lost China, finding new markets was important; however, the barley will go to wherever the best price is – and that is clearly China.

I had a few bets with people that China would be our biggest buyer immediately after the tariff was gone. I think the barley-based drinks may be on me. That’s if China hasn’t taken all the malt.

(AI-generated header image.)


  • Barley
  • China