The Renewable Fuels Association announced Friday that China imported about 13 million gallons of U.S. ethanol in December, raising hopes that imports from the Asian powerhouse will continue in 2021. 

The Chinese December imports follow the country’s purchase of 8.6 million gallons in November — the largest purchase the Chinese have made since 2018. A surge in imports could go a long way in helping boost overall trade after a slow 2020 that was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re pleased to see recent purchases and shipments of U.S. ethanol by China,” U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Ryan LeGrand told Agri-Pulse. “We know Chinese buyers recognize the octane value of U.S. ethanol as evidenced by their purchases in previous years and we hope this is the start of much more to come.”

RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper says the recent resumption in Chinese imports are a very good sign.

“We enter 2021 on solid footing and the industry is optimistic about the prospects for meaningful growth in ethanol exports,” Cooper said.

U.S. ethanol exports dropped off in 2020 as people stopped driving during COVID-19 lockdowns, but the U.S. still managed to ship quite a bit of the fuel.

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The U.S. exported 1.33 billion gallons of ethanol in 2020, according to RFA. That’s a 9% decrease from 2019 and the lowest total since 2016, but it was still a triumph, says Lesly McNitt, director of public policy and trade for the National Corn Growers Association.

“Given the devastating hit in early 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on fuel consumption and some of the significant trade barriers that U.S. ethanol has faced, the fact that the U.S. still exported 1.33 billion gallons in 2020 was a testament to the inherent value of ethanol as a renewable fuel and industrial energy source,” she told Agri-Pulse.

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