U.S. Ethanol: January to November 2016 Exports Second Largest Since the 2011 Record

By S. Patricia Batres-Marquez  

Decision Innovation Solutions, 11107 Aurora Avenue, Urbandale, IA 50322 


January 31, 2017

Although most U.S. ethanol production is consumed domestically, exports are important to the industry, particularly during a large stock backlog. U.S. ethanol exports have a positive impact in the development and expansion of the ethanol industry, with new markets contributing to the economic viability of the industry. Ethanol exports represented 6.8% of total ethanol production during the first 11 months of 2016 (13.966 billion gallons), increasing from 5.5% during the same period in 2015. Ethanol production from January to November 2016 also experienced a 3.0% increase from the same period in 2015.

U.S. Ethanol Exports: January to November 2016

The U.S. ethanol exports from January to November 2016 were up 26.7% to 948.2 million gallons compared with the same period the previous year (748.2 million gallons). U.S. ethanol exports during the first 11 months of 2016 surpassed levels each of the past four years (see Figure 1), and were the second largest volume exported since the record in 2011 (1.195 billion gallons). Data from USDA-FAS indicates U.S. ethanol exports during 2016 (January to November) reached a value of $1.851 billion, increasing 16.6% from 2015 (January to November). U.S. ethanol was shipped to 31 different countries in 2016.

U.S. Ethanol Exports

Figure 1. U.S. Ethanol Exports

Following are the main U.S. ethanol importing countries during 2016.


Canada remained as the number one foreign market for U.S. ethanol in 2016 (see Figure 2), a position maintained since 2012. The United States shipped 24.5% of its total ethanol exports to Canada during the first 11 months of 2016. Although Canada has been a steady importer of U.S. ethanol, exports in 2016 (January to November) increased only 1% to 232.00 million gallons relative to the same period in 2015. In August 2016, USDA-FAS (USDA-FAS, 2016a) projected Canadian ethanol imports of 264.2 million gallons both in 2016 and 2017, with the United States supplying most of those imports.

U.S. Monthly Ethanol Exports by slected destinationFigure 2. U.S. Monthly Ethanol Exports by Selected Destinations (Jan 2013-Nov 2016).


U.S. ethanol exports to Brazil kept a steady pace throughout the first 11 months of 2016 compared with 2015. Exports to Brazil rose 117.4% to 224.5 million gallons compared with the same period in 2015. Exports to Brazil in November 2016 reached the highest volume of the year at 50.7 million gallons. Brazil was the second largest market for U.S. ethanol in 2016, with an export share of 23.7% relative to total 2016 U.S. ethanol exports. Exports to Brazil during January to November 2016 were up 99.4% from the volume exported to that country during the entire 2015 year (112.6 million gallons). Exports to Brazil are supported by the country’s zero import tariff for ethanol. Brazil’s import tariff for ethanol is 20%, but since April 2010, ethanol has been included in Brazil’s “list of exceptions” and the tariff has been reduced to zero (USDA-FAS, 2016b). This tariff will remain in effect through December 31, 2021 (USDA-FAS, 2016b). Brazil’s ethanol-use mandate continues unchanged at 27% (E27).


China was the third largest importer of U.S. ethanol from January to November 2016. U.S. exports to China surged during that period, outpacing the 2015 volume (January to November 2015) by 183% to 179.2 million gallons. Overall, China imported 105.3 million gallons more ethanol during the first 11 months of 2016 than during all of 2015. The United States exported to China almost a quarter (19%) of the total ethanol volume exports from January to November 2016. Exports during 2017 may not keep the same pace as in 2016. The USDA-FAS’s Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report published January 18, 2017 indicated China had a tentative tariff rate of 5% for denatured ethanol (HS 22072000) in 2016; however, the rate was restored to 30% starting January 1, 2017 (USDA-FAS, 2017). The new tariff is expected to have a negative impact on U.S. ethanol exports to China in 2017.


In 2016 (January to November), India imported 81.4 million gallons of U.S. ethanol, outpacing the 2015 volume by 44 million gallons. India’s ethanol production during 2016 and 2017 has been estimated/projected at 550.9 million gallons and 506.7 million gallons, respectively, declining 9% and 16% from the 2015 volume. The two-year production decline is the result of decreased sugarcane acres (USDA-FAS, 2016c). The main feedstock in India’s ethanol production is sugarcane molasses, while a portion of the production is made from grains. India is projected to import 158 million gallons of ethanol in 2017 from all sources, up 33% from the estimated volume in 2016. Although imported ethanol is expected to sell at the same price as local suppliers, which provides less incentives for imports, the smaller production and larger ethanol import projections offer opportunity for U.S. ethanol to increase its market share in India.

Other Countries: The Philippines, South Korea, Peru, and Mexico

Other important destinations for U.S. ethanol in 2016 included the Philippines (50.7 million gallons), South Korea (36.0 million gallons), Peru (36.0 million gallons), and Mexico (27.1 million gallons). The United States shipped 16% of the total volume of ethanol exported in 2016 (January to November) to these four countries.  

The Philippines was the third largest market for U.S. ethanol in 2015, but the volume of U.S. ethanol exports to that country fell 21% during 2016 compared with 2015 (January to November). Exports are projected to continue this declining trend in 2017 based on a projected increase in the Philippines domestic ethanol production (USDA-FAS, 2016d). However, these projections are based on an optimistic assumption of a production capacity utilization rate above 90%. The Philippines currently has a 10% ethanol blend mandate policy, which in the past has been difficult to achieve by domestic production (USDA-FAS, 2016d). 

U.S. ethanol exports to Peru represented only 3.8% of total exports in 2016 (January to November), but U.S. exports to that country grew 53% year over year. Peru’s ethanol production started to decline in 2015 due to the closure of two production plants that year. To meet domestic demand, Peru’s ethanol imports grew in 2016. Ethanol Imports are projected to continue this trend in 2017 to meet the domestic supply gap (USDA-FAS, 2016e). Because of the U.S. Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, Peru’s import duty on U.S. ethanol is only 3%. By 2018, U.S. ethanol imported by Peru will be duty-free.

Ethanol Exports in 2017

The latest weekly ethanol production data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows the ethanol industry set another production record in the week ending January 27, 2017 at 1.061 million barrels per day. Weekly ending stocks during the same week were up 142,000 barrels to 21.870 million barrels compared with the previous week (January 20, 2017). U.S. ethanol exports support producers’ margins in times of ethanol production growth combined with increased ending stocks. 2017 U.S. ethanol exports could be expected to remain strong in markets such as Canada and Brazil. Exports to India and Peru also are expected to grow in 2017. Diversity of its export market is one of the strengths of the U.S. ethanol industry, and may help offset disruptions in exports to China. Exports to China may fall in 2017 due to the higher import tariff for ethanol reinstated in January 2017. From January to November 2016, the United States shipped to China almost one-fourth (179.2 million gallons) of the total U.S. ethanol exports during that period. Exports to China were valued at $296.031 million.


USDA-FAS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service), 2016a. Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN): Canada: Biofuels Annual 2016. August

———, 2016b. GAIN: Brazil-Biofuels Annual. August

———, 2016c. GAIN: India-Biofuels Annual. June

———, 2016d. GAIN: Philippines-Biofuels Annual. August

———, 2016e. GAIN: Peru-Biofuels Annual. December

———, 2017. GAIN: People Republic of China-2017 Brings New Duty Rates for Some Agricultural Products. January