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China buys corn and soybeans ‘to keep me happy,’ says Trump

The expected six-month review of the Sino-U.S. trade agreement failed to materialize on Saturday but President Trump expressed satisfaction with the increasing pace of farm export sales to China. During a news conference, Trump said, “China has been buying a lot of — a lot of things, and they’re doing it to keep me happy but they’re dreaming about Joe Biden.”

The sales, which began to accelerate in July, have stirred hopes in farm country. Most commodity prices slumped last spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy. The government is forecast to send a record $32 billion in subsidies to farmers and ranchers this year, to mitigate the impact of the trade war and the pandemic, but farm income still might slip.

From Trump on down, administration officials routinely list the “phase one” trade agreement that de-escalated the Sino-U.S. trade war among the president’s three top achievements in trade; the others are a U.S.-Japan agreement on agriculture and industrial goods, and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “Phase one” seems to be a stabilizer in the up-and-down fluctuations of relations between the two nations.

The deal with China calls for Beijing to purchase $36.6 billion of U.S. food, agricultural, and seafood products this year. China purchased a quarter of that amount in the first six months of 2020.

Under the agreement, the two sides are to conduct a review every six months. The agreement took effect in mid-February so a bilateral meeting was expected over the weekend. Unnamed sources said there were scheduling conflicts and the desire to give China more time to buy U.S. goods, reported Reuters.

Trump cited agricultural exports to China on Saturday while pointing to improvements in the U.S. economy. In somewhat jumbled remarks, he said, “China has purchased the most amount of corn in history,” apparently referring to two large sales totaling 3.699 million tonnes of corn in July for delivery to China. One of the sales was the largest ever to China, 1.937 million tonnes.  But the largest corn sale in USDA records was 3.720 million tonnes on Jan. 9, 1991, to the Soviet Union. The sale to China ranks third on USDA’s list of largest sales.

The president also pointed to “a massive amount of soybeans. Also cattle.” Chinese importers bought 1.3 million tonnes of soybeans last week, with a sale reported on each business day. Most of the recent sales to China call for delivery during the 2020/21 marketing year, which begins on Sept. 1. China prefers to buy at harvesttime, when prices are lowest.

As of Aug. 6, some 16.9 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans had been sold to China in the current marketing year, and 10.3 million tonnes were on the books for delivery in the new marketing year, according to USDA. At this point in 2017, before the trade war, 36.3 million tonnes of soybeans had been sold to China for delivery in the ongoing trade year.

Some 5.7 million tonnes of U.S. corn are on the books for delivery to China in the new marketing year, compared with 2.2 million tonnes in the current year.

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