China's cystine export surging amid low prices 04-04-2018

China's export volume of cystine surged at the beginning of 2018, mainly attributed to the demand surge in Russia and Germany. The trend is similar to the one in the first half of 2017.


According to data by China Customs, the export volume of cystine exported in China in January 2018 went up by 137.29% MoM as well as 31.50% YoY. Further in February, the export volume continued to increase by another 60.08% MoM and 825.18% YoY. According to market intelligence firm CCM, the increases in export volume can be explained by the low prices that are currently witnessed in China’s cystine market. 

In terms of export destination, the demand soared in Russia. More than a half of the total export volume in January went to Russia. Germany saw especially significant increases in demand in February, an increase up by 6,054.55% MoM. 

Notably, in 2017, Germany imported 11.85 tonnes and Russia only 1.53 tonnes, even smaller. However, in the first two months of 2018, Russia's imports of cystine increased by 1,100.33% compared with the whole year of 2017, and German's up by 42.83%. 

At present, most of the domestic producers extract cystine after the hydrolysis of hydrochloric acid, using human and pig hair as the raw materials. Some also use chicken and duck hair, as well as pigs' feet carapace as the raw materials. Since the 1950s, China has been the world's largest producer and exporter of cystine in the world, offering 80%-85% of the global supplies.

The European and American countries, Japan, and more developing countries are the importers. However, the lack of R&D abilities has put China a lower place in the value chain. The whole cystine industrial chain, including cystine, cysteine, acetylcysteine, and s-carboxymethyl-l-cysteine, should be the development trend. 

China’s cystine export in H1 2017

Great fluctuations were seen in the export volume during the first six months of 2017. The figure surged in January but quickly declined in February again. Then it climbed up in March and further increased to the highest monthly record of H1 in May. Similar to the current development, the recovery in export volume was mainly boosted by the declines in export prices.

The domestic cystine output is now growing by 3%-5% annually, yet the market demand still can hardly be met, given its wide application in fields such as pharmaceuticals, food, cosmetics and healthcare products. For instance, cystine, together with glycine and glutamic acid, can be synthesised into glutathione, a greatly demanded active pharmaceutical ingredient used in antidotes and eye drops. Its downstream products have also seen growing demands. Take cysteine as an example: as popular active pharmaceutical ingredient applied in health care food, it is predicted to record double demand in the coming years. 

Domestically, cystine consumption mainly concentrates in South China, North China and, in particular, East China, which are also the main markets of pharmaceuticals, food and cosmetics. 

There are dozens of cystine manufacturers in China currently, but most are small- and medium-sized. These producers mainly extract cystine from human hair or pig hair after it is hydrolysed with hydrochloric acid. As the state reinforces environmental regulations, many of them have to withdraw from the market due to their failure to meet environmental protection standards, which will then significantly improve the production concentration of the domestic cystine business.

Given the deepening industrial optimisation and the growing demand, the domestic cystine business is expected to remain prosperous in the coming years. Also, China's hair-extracted amino acids are likely to keep a leading position in the international market, especially in fields like pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, daily chemicals, food, beverages, and feeds. 

About the article

The information for this article comes from CCM, China’s leading market intelligence provider for the fields of agriculture, chemicals, food and feed. 

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