Despite agreement, China purchase of US agriculture lags

Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s top soybean producers, are starting their harvests next spring. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 August 2020

Despite agreement, China purchase of US agriculture lags

  • The two sides are set to meet on Saturday to discuss the deal, American media says

NEW YORK: Seven months after the United States and China signed a preliminary agreement to temper their trade war, Beijing’s purchases of US agricultural goods have yet to reach the deal’s target.

As President Donald Trump readies for a tough reelection battle in November, US media reported the two sides are set to meet beginning August 15 to discuss the deal, which calls for China to sharply increase buying American goods and services this year and next.

But according to data compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), Chinese agricultural purchases at the end of June were far from where they should be at this point in the year.

They had reached only 39 percent of their semiannual target, according to US figures, or 48 percent, based on Chinese figures.

“If we get back to what the level of trade was in 2017, we’ll be lucky,” said Chad Bown, a PIIE senior fellow who authored the study, referring to the year before the trade war began.

Under the deal’s terms, China agreed to increase agricultural imports $32 billion over the next 2 years from 2017 levels.

Chinese orders for corn and soybeans have increased since mid-July, with Beijing buying just over 3 million tons of American oilseeds between July 14 and Aug. 7, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

At the end of July, the United States reported the largest-ever daily order by China for its corn, of 1.9 million tons.

The announcements were a relief to US farmers, who are expecting a bumper crop this year and need to find buyers to take it.

They also came at a time of high political tension between the two countries, after the Trump administration authorized sanctions against several Hong Kong leaders over the rights crackdown in the city, and restrictions on Chinese apps WeChat and TikTok.

The Chinese “realize we’re not being the best of buddies right now, but they need the products and they’re gonna take as much as they need,” said Jack Scoville, agricultural market analyst for Price Futures Group.

It’s possible that Beijing will change its orders from buying this year’s harvest to next year’s.

But analysts warn that any orders could be called off before the ships carrying them leave port.

Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s largest soybean and corn producers, are starting their harvests next spring, said Brian Hoops, president of the brokerage firm Midwest Market Solutions.

China “could cancel all these purchases they made in July and buy at much cheaper prices if that’s available to them,” Hoops said.

The trade deal dubbed “phase one” and signed in January has managed to survive both the tensions and the sharp global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has badly hit international trade.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in June said China would follow through on its commitments, while Washington would also pursue a “phase two” trade deal that “will focus on issues of overcapacity, subsidization, disciplines on China’s state-owned enterprises, and cyber theft.”

Bown said any success in getting China to buy not just farm but also energy and manufactured goods, would aid Trump in his reelection campaign.


Saudi Arabia to host ‘virtual’ G20 meeting on oil markets

Updated 27 September 2020

Saudi Arabia to host ‘virtual’ G20 meeting on oil markets

  • Energy ministers will also discuss plans for ‘green’ economic recovery from ravages of coronavirus pandemic

DUBAI: Energy ministers from the G20 countries under the presidency of Saudi Arabia will meet virtually on Sunday to discuss volatile oil markets and plans for a “green” recovery from the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kingdom is strongly backing a “circular carbon economy” strategy to remove harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.

The two-day event is the second time this year that energy policymakers have come together, following the historic meeting last April that helped stabilize crude markets in meltdown.

Markets have since recovered and the price of benchmark Brent crude has more than doubled, but doubts about their resilience have resurfaced amid fears of a “second wave” of economic lockdowns.

Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister and chairman of the G20 event, has highlighted the need for tight discipline by members of the OPEC+ oil producers’ alliance to combat market “uncertainty.” 

“If we are serious about mitigating the impact of the shock and navigating through these extraordinary times, this is our only path,” he said.

The G20 said ministers would discuss ways to “strengthen collaboration toward market stability and security and discuss promoting and advancing sustainable energy systems through the Circular Carbon Economy platform,” and address “advancing universal access to energy and clean cooking for all.”

There is consensus on the need to mitigate harmful emissions, but some European countries and nongovernmental organizations are believed to be pressing for a stronger stance on fossil fuels.

The Saudi strategy, supported by the US and Russia, is for a more inclusive stance on hydrocarbon resources, while simultaneously promoting renewable sources such as solar and wind.