August 5, 2019

China Asked State Buyers to Halt U.S. Agriculture Imports

 |  By: Bloomberg News

The Chinese government has asked its state-owned enterprises to suspend imports of U.S. agricultural products after President Donald Trump ratcheted up trade tensions with the Asian nation last week, people familiar with the situation said.

China’s state-run agricultural firms have now stopped buying American farm goods, and are waiting to see how trade talks progress, the people said, declining to be identified as they’re not authorized to speak to the media. China’s commerce ministry didn’t respond to a fax seeking comment.

President Trump on Thursday proposed adding 10% tariffs on another $300 billion in imports from Sept. 1, marking an abrupt escalation of the trade war between the world’s largest economies shortly after the two sides restarted talks. Bureaucrats in Beijing were stunned by Trump’s announcement, according to Chinese officials who’ve been involved in the trade talks, and Beijing has pledged to respond if the U.S. insists on adding the extra tariffs.

“The leverage that China has is its large agricultural purchases,” Darin Friedrichs, a senior analyst at INTL FCStone’s Asia commodities division, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “This does affect U.S. farmers and the rural U.S. voting base that’s normally in support of Donald Trump. If they hit back before the election, that’s the obvious way to retaliate.”

Trump has repeatedly complained that China hasn’t made the “large quantities” of agricultural purchases that he claims President Xi Jinping promised when they met in Osaka at the G-20 summit. The escalation of tensions has encouraged Chinese buyers to turn to Brazilian soybeans, people familiar with the situation said.

‘Very Nervous’

Soybean futures for November traded in Chicago erased gains to fall 0.6% to $8.6375 a bushel by 11:47 a.m. Beijing time. Corn futures lost 1.3% to $4.04 a bushel. Meanwhile, soymeal prices in China added 1.9%, while rapeseed meal futures jumped 2.9% on expectations for tighter supplies.

China had already cut back on U.S. purchases drastically, with soybean imports sinking to the lowest in a decade during the first half of this year. In a show of goodwill, the Asian agricultural giant had recently given the go-ahead for five companies to buy up to 3 million tons of U.S. soybeans without paying retaliatory import tariffs. Meanwhile, state-owned companies had pledged to buy about 14 million tons, of which about 4 million tons have not yet been shipped.

“I would be very nervous if I was a Chinese company trying to buy produce right now,” Friedrichs said. “We’ll see a lot of private importers backing away from U.S. products as well.”

(Updates to include analyst comment, chart and background.)

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Steven Yang in Beijing at [email protected]; Isis Almeida in Chicago at [email protected];Niu Shuping in Beijing at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Kitanaka at [email protected], Sharon Chen