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How China’s yuan devaluation could affect your food costs

A shopper hands Chinese money to a vendor at an outdoor market in Beijing, China.
Getty Images
A shopper hands Chinese money to a vendor at an outdoor market in Beijing, China.

The actions of China's central bank to lower the yuan's peg against the U.S. dollar will have far-reaching consequences – even as far as your plate.

China is one of the world's biggest importers of what are known as "soft" commodities – including key ingredients such as soybeans. China's imports have become more expensive thanks to the falling yuan, therefore, if the country cannot buy as much of these as before, there may be a bigger glut of crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already suggested that there will be a better crop of corn, soybean and wheat this year than previously thought in its benchmark World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report crop report, another factor which could drive up supply.

"In almost every possible way, the USDA was more bearish than expected. There's a lot of skepticism on this report. People are thinking that maybe the USDA got it wrong," Kona Haque, head of research at agricultural commodities trading firm ED&F Man, told CNBC.

Also, where the yuan slips, other emerging market currencies could follow – and if they are major food exporters like Brazil, the world's biggest producer of coffee, sugar cane and soy, this could continue to drive down the cost of the food on your plate. The Brazilian real has already hit 12 year lows against the US dollar recently, which has helped sugar prices continue their slide.

The strength of the US dollar and concerns about the Chinese economy have already kept pressure on commodity markets. The CRB commodity index, the most watched commodity futures price index, is down 14 percent so far this year.

"We are in the middle of harvest pressure, and then the Chinese devaluation, the broader macro issues – it's not a bullish environment," Haque said.

Long-term, the challenge of feeding an emergent Chinese middle class is likely to be positive for commodity prices.

"The China demographic story will still be very supportive," Haque told CNBC.

"It's a great opportunity for China to stock up when prices are low. They can really help push the market back up. It's ultimately all about proteins for China."


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