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Trade Monitor
March U.S. Ethanol Exports Just a Hair Lower than February’s Record Volume

May 3, 2018

Trade, Exports


U.S. ethanol exports totaled 215.1 million gallons (mg) in March, according to government data released this morning and analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Coming in at just 2% under February’s record export volume, March saw the second-largest volume of ethanol shipments in history.


Brazil was the leading destination for U.S. ethanol exports for the fifth straight month, receiving 95.9 mg (45% of total exports). Although Brazil’s imports were down 7% from February, they represented the second-largest monthly volume to that country on the books. The U.S. shipped 24.6 mg to Canada, up 11% over February and a 5-month high. Meaningful volumes were shipped to China for the fifth straight month, although March exports retreated 40% from February to land at 19.8 mg. China’s April imposition of an additional 15% import duty on ethanol will no doubt contribute to further losses in that market.


Brazil, Canada, and China secured two-thirds of American-made ethanol exports in March, with the remaining volume shipping to another 35 countries. Notably, South Korea’s imports at 13.4 mg (6% market share) were nearly triple the February total. India marginally increased purchases to 11.8 mg (5%), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) bought 21% more at 11.3 mg (5%), and Nigeria re-entered the market with its largest monthly purchase of the year at 7.8 mg. Year-to-date exports stood at 522.0 mg through March—35% stronger than the first quarter of 2017—implying a record annualized export volume of 2.09 billion gallons.


Shipments of U.S. undenatured fuel ethanol slipped 7.7% in March to 125.2 mg, primarily attributed to shrinking volumes in China as well as the Philippines’ departure from the market. Brazil imported just 1% less U.S. product than February with 95.9 mg, picking up over three-fourths (77%) of all undenatured fuel exports. India bolstered its undenatured imports by 32% to 11.8, mg while Nigeria and Mexico brought in 3.7 mg and 3.5 mg, respectively. China imported just 2.6 mg of undenatured, a 76% drop from February.


U.S. denatured fuel ethanol exports marginally grew to 80.8 mg despite nine of the top 10 customers increasing their imports. Canada purchased 23.5 mg, or 29% of all U.S. denatured product (up 11%), but exports to China contracted by 22% to 17.1 mg. South Korea made a record purchase of 12.1 mg, nearly double its previous record. The UAE (11.3 mg), Peru (4.5 mg), Colombia (4.0 mg), and Oman (3.6 mg) were other significant importers of denatured fuel ethanol.

Overseas sales of denatured and undenatured ethanol for non-fuel, non-beverage purposes rebounded to 5.2 mg and 3.8 mg, respectively. The bulk of denatured non-fuel product shipped to Nigeria (4.1 mg, or 79%) and Canada (1.0 mg). Most undenatured product for non-fuel use headed to Saudi Arabia (2.5 mg) and South Korea (1.0 mg).


For the first time in four months, the United States recorded measurable fuel ethanol import volumes in March, as Brazil exported 1.6 mg of undenatured fuel. This was the largest volume of imports for the first quarter over the past three years.


March exports of dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS)—the animal feed co-product generated by dry mill ethanol plants—gained 8% over February to register at 905,558 metric tons (mt). Shipments to top customer Mexico, representing 17% of total exports, dipped 17% from February to 151,720 mt. But, Vietnam increased its offtake by 21% for a 16-month high of 113,705 mt. Significant volumes headed to South Korea (102,931 mt, up 28%), Thailand (99,395 mt, up 40%), Indonesia (71,544 mt, up 67%), Canada (57,386 mt, up 15%), and Japan (44,681 mt, up 71%). Year-to-date exports stand at 2.64 million mt; implying an annualized export total of 10.6 million mt.



Ann Lewis

Ann Lewis is a Research Analyst at RFA.