NEW YORK, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Chinese soybean buyers attending a large U.S. soy export conference believe imports for 2023 will be a bit larger than some projections, but they don't see import volumes growing much more in the coming years.
Sun Lige, vice-president of China's Wellhope Foods Company Ltd, said on the sidelines of Soy Connext conference that the Asian country will probably import 100 million metric tons of soybeans in 2023, more than the 98 million tons projected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
He said, however, that imports for the next five years will hover around that 100-million-ton level, as demand for the ingredient that is mostly used to make animal feed is set to stabilize.
Lige said through a translator that the main factors for China's demand for soy to peak soon are an ageing population and the fact that young Chinese prefer chicken meat more than pork.
"I'm not very positive about soy demand going forward," he said, explaining that price is also a consideration for young people that are opting for poultry and not pork, as well as health concerns.
The protein conversion ratio, or the amount of grain an animal needs to eat to gain weight, is higher in poultry, so there wont be the need to import the same amount of soybeans if pork consumption falls.
Li Ying, procurement manager for Sichuan Tequ Investment Group Co., Ltd, said that China will buy the soy it needs either from the U.S. or South America, looking mostly at price, regardless of quality.
"This is a price sensitive market," he said.
China usually alternates its buying between Brazil and the U.S., depending on the period of the year, as the two largest producers have their harvests in opposite windows.
Ying said Brazilian soybeans have more moisture and are not as good to be stored, while U.S. soy can be stored for longer and has higher protein content.
(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by David Evans)