China canceling U.S. soybean orders in face of tariff threat

10.05.2018

With the threat of tariffs and counter-tariffs between Washington and Beijing looming, Chinese buyers are canceling orders for U.S. soybeans, a trend that could deal a blow to American farmers if it continues.

At the same time, farmers in China are being encouraged to plant more soy, apparently to help make up for any shortfall from the United States.

Beijing has included soybeans on a list of $50 billion of U.S. exports on which it has said it would impose 25 percent tariffs if the United States follows through on its threats to impose the same level of tariffs on the same value of Chinese goods. The U.S. tariffs could kick in later this month; China would likely retaliate soon after.

It can take a month or longer for soybean shipments to travel from the U.S. to China. Any soybeans en route to China now could be hit by the tariff by the time they arrive.

“The Chinese aren’t willing to buy U.S. soybeans with a 25 percent tax hanging over their head,” said Dan Basse, president of AgResource, an agricultural research and advisory firm. “You just don’t want the risk.”

China typically buys most of its soybeans from South American nations such as Brazil and Argentina during spring and early summer. It shifts to U.S. soybeans in the fall. As a result, for now, the cutbacks from the United States are relatively small.

But should they persist, it could cause real pain to U.S. farmers. Roughly 60 percent of U.S. soybeans are shipped to China.

There might also be a political impact: Three of the top five soybean-exporting states — Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska — voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

Illinois, the top soybean exporter, and Minnesota, the third-largest, backed Hillary Clinton.

Basse said it has been roughly three weeks since China made any major soybean purchases, an unusually long delay.

Meanwhile, China’s trade surplus with the U.S. swelled to $22.2 billion in April, up from $15.4 in March and the first increase since November, as exports to the U.S. grew at a double digit pace. Data released by China Tuesday showed that the country’s total exports jumped 21.5 percent in April from the same month the year before.


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