World coffee exports returned to growth in March, led by a leap in Asian shipments to a record high, as exports from Vietnam, the top robusta grower, recovered from logistical setbacks.

Global exports of all forms of coffee reached 13.16m tonnes in March, up by 4.0% from the 12.65m bags shipped a year before, the International Coffee Organization said.

The increase was led by the Asia and Oceania region, which shipped 5.03m bags, up by 19.4% from the 4.21m bags exported in March 2021.

“This is the first time that the region’s exports have broken through the 5.0m-bags barrier, and it is also the first time that Asia & Oceania has taken the top position in volume of exports from South America since April 2018,” the ICO said.

‘Sharp increases’

The growth was led by Vietnam, which shipped 3.62m bags of coffee, up by 29% year on year, to take volumes for the October-to-March period, the first half of 2021-22, to 15.26m bags, up by 21% year on year as logistical hiccups subsided.

“These sharp increases need to be seen as balancing the decrease (7.5%) that was recorded in the same period last year, due to logistical constraints,” the ICO said.

It noted a year before the impact of a “shortage of containers, rising freight costs, and port congestion at destinations in the United States and Europe”.

Exports are expected to show a strong April too, with Vietnamese government estimates on Friday foreseeing a figure of about 170,000 tonnes, equivalent to 2.8m bags, and up 29% year on year.

‘Availability of containers…’

By contrast, South America’s all-coffee exports slid by 12.1% to 30.11m bags in the October-to-March half, reflecting weaker volumes from Brazil, which continued to be dogged by logistical setbacks.

Brazilian volumes have also been undermined by the harvesting in 2021 of a smaller “off-year” crop, in terms of the country’s cycle of alternately higher and lower arabica output.

“Availability of containers and shipping capacity, albeit with reported improvements in recent weeks, and a smaller crop harvested during its arabica ‘off-season’ are the main reasons for the sharp fall” in Brazilian exports, the ICO said.

‘Persistent unfavourable weather’

Exports from Colombia, the second-ranked arabica grower after Brazil, fell too, by 8.6% to 6.48m bags, “linked to persistent unfavourable weather conditions reducing the available supply of coffee in the country”.

Data on Wednesday from Colombia’s Federación Nacional de Cafeteros showed that decline extending last month too, reporting April output down 7.4% year on year at 750,000 bags, after heavy rains lashed plantations.

Exports, at 845,000 bags, tumbled by 18.4% year on year.

Price impact

Prices, meanwhile, of Colombian mild arabica beans rose by 2.4% month on month to 292.64 cents a pound in April, ICO data showed.

Brazilian natural arabica beans, up 1.8% at 226.11 cents a pound, also outperformed the ICO’s all-coffee index, which rose by 1.8% to 198.37 cents a pound.

By contrast, prices of robusta beans, in which Asia leads exports, rose by just 0.1% to 103.96 cents a pound.

The ICO’s overall price index has risen in 17 of the last 18 months, appreciating by 87% over that period.