CHICAGO, April 29 (Reuters) - Agricultural processor Bunge Ltd (BG.N) expects China to become a small net importer of corn in the mid- to long-term as the country's rising demand for meat will increase its demand for animal feed, Bunge Chief Executive Alberto Weisser said on Thursday.
China will likely import more corn this year, although sales volumes remain unclear, he said during a conference call with analysts after the company announced lower-than-expected quarterly profit.
"We have the similar view of USDA that in the mid- to long-term China will become a relatively small importer of corn as the demand continues increasing, especially for the meat industry as feed," Weisser said.
"We see we (will be) part of this process of shipping corn, but it is not really clear yet how much it will be this year."
News that China made its first purchase of U.S. corn in four years sent corn futures on the Chicago Board of Trade up 3 percent on Wednesday and talk of further sales lifted futures to five-week highs on Thursday.
The U.S. Agriculture Department confirmed sales of 115,000 tonnes of U.S. corn to China and the U.S. Grains Council later said China may have bought an additional 300,000 tonnes of the feed grain.
Soaring Chinese domestic corn prices have prompted feed producers there to seek out lower cost imports, which require government-issued import permits.
China has auctioned corn from its large state stockpile over recent weeks in an attempt to cool prices, but domestic corn costs have remained high.