The race is on as China and India potash contract talks pick up the pace

20 June 2018 09:59 Source:ICIS News

BERLIN (ICIS)--The race is on for China and India as buyers in the two key importing nations accelerate long-term muriate of potash (MOP) fertilizer supply contract talks.

There is talk that producers are targeting around $300/tonne CFR (cost and freight) for both the China and India contracts - although the first nation to settle could enjoy a lower price than the runner-up.

The lion’s share of MOP volumes may also go to the victor - a vital consideration, as inventories are low, and strong demand is pushing producers to focus on immediate business.

An increase in both the China and India long-term contracts has been expected for some time.

On Tuesday, there was talk of Belarus Potash Company (BPC) offering terms of $292/tonne CFR to China; although the buyers countered with $242/tonne CFR.

As such, it seems a middle ground may yet be some way off.

A price point of $300/tonne CFR would mean an increase of $70/tonne CFR for China, and $60/tonne CFR for India over the 2017-2018 contracts.

China is traditionally first off the starting line for negotiations, but the key importer has been stalling of late - comfortable to wait for a stronger negotiating position, thanks its ample stock of MOP.

“China could wait until October if they wanted,” a source at a major producer says.

India, however, may have less than two and a half months’ supply remaining - and “they won’t wait”.

The balance of supply is also of paramount concern, according to the producer.

“There’s not enough MOP to go around, which could affect prices. The Chinese are not ready to accept higher levels.”

According to the source, even with their combined production, the world’s MOP majors could be hard-pressed to supply both nation’s total requirements.

This is partially due to strong demand for MOP in other areas of the world.

Demand is brisk in Brazil - an immense agricultural powerhouse - which the producer described as “the better choice when prices are so strong”, as compared to maintaining a potash stockpile.

Granular MOP is no longer available at $310/tonne CFR except for small, very prompt volumes, and “if a producer were to offer at $320/tonne CFR, smaller buyers would absolutely take it”, according to the source.

“Smaller suppliers would pay $320/tonne CFR, for sure. The big guys, though, they are asking for $330/tonne CFR - but with all the bullish pressure, we’re offering above this," it said.

The Brazilian truck strike that so paralysed the nation’s logistics network has been resolved, and appears to have had little effect on MOP trade.

In the meantime, the global potash industry is waiting near the finish line - but whether China or India will be first past the chequered flag remains to be seen.

Focus article by Andy Hemphill

By Andy Hemphill