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As Trump Delays Tariffs, He Says China Wants to Buy U.S. Ag Exports

China intends “to buy a lot of farm product,” said President Trump on Tuesday, describing “a very, very productive call” between U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators. At the same time, the White House announced it would delay 10 percent tariffs on electronics such as cell phones, laptop computers, and video game consoles until December 15.

“Again, they’ve said this many times; they’ve said they’re going to buy farm products,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey. “So far, they’ve disappointed me…They haven’t been truthful, or, let’s say, they’ve certainly delayed the decision. But it’s their intention to buy a lot of farm product.”

The administration repeatedly called during July for China to make good will purchases of US farm exports. China said no firm commitment was made when Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed in late June to restart negotiations. Sales have run at low levels since the trade war began in earnest in July 2018.

The trade war has relegated China, formerly the top customer for U.S. food and agriculture exports, to fifth place this year, with purchases that would be one-third of their previous volume. U.S. farm exports are forecast to fall by 4 percent worldwide this year because alternative markets have been slow to appear. China has turned to South America, and Brazil in particular, to replace U.S. supplies.

A week ago, China said it was cutting off agriculture purchases in response to Trump’s decision to impose 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese-made products. The tariffs were due to take effect on September 1 but the U.S. trade representative’s office, a White House agency, said they would be delayed until December 15 for products such as “cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing.” The trade office said other products would be exempt from tariffs altogether, “based on health, safety, national security and other factors.”

“In the phone talks, China lodged solemn representations concerning U.S. additional tariffs starting on September 1,” said Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, in a four-paragraph story that did not mention agricultural products. “The two sides agreed to hold another phone conversation in two weeks.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade representative Robert Lighthizer led the U.S. side in the telephone call. Vice Premier Liu He headed a group of senior Chinese officials taking part.

Asked if he would delay tariffs beyond December 1, Trump said, “No, we’re doing this for the Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers, which, so far, they’ve had virtually none.”

Meanwhile, the Kyodo news agency said that Trump asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to buy US farm exports worth several hundred million dollars including specific products such as soybeans and wheat, reported Reuters. Kyodo said the request was separate from ongoing trade negotiations between the nations. According to Kyodo, which based its story on unnamed sources in the U.S. and Japanese governments, one suggestion was to use the products for food aid in Africa.

Senate Finance chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa farmer, said during a teleconference that the state of trade talks “will be a very important part of the election” in 2020. Rural America was key to Trump’s election in 2016.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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