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U.S. Farmers’ Associations Recognize Vulnerability of Exports to China

06/18/2024

U.S. farmers’ associations have asked policymakers not to involve food in a trade war with China.  This is a forlorn hope. Stan Born, Chair of Trade Policy and International Affairs Advocacy for the American Soybean Association, noted, “I have gone to Washington, D.C. and I talked to senators and representatives. I always emphasize the business of our food.  This is one area that we should keep separate and keep it clean and not use it as a hammer.”  His comments reflect growing concern over volumes of agricultural exports to China, a significant buyer of corn and soybeans.

 

The American Soybean Association cannot hope to continue exporting to China against existing punitive tariffs and the threats of escalation with a different Administration.  Even with a level playing field, Brazil can produce and ship to China cheaper than the U.S.  Corn, soybean and sorghum farmers should recognize the realities of extreme competition and trade barriers and plan accordingly.  For consecutive calendar years 2017 through 2019, the U.S. supplied 34 percent of soybean requirements for China amounting to 95.5 million metric tons.  This was followed by a decline to 17 percent of 88.5 million metric tons in 2018 and 16 percent of 88 million metric tons in 2019.  Subsequent to establishing the Phase 1 Trade Agreement, it was anticipated that China would import 95.0 million metric tons during the 2020/ 2021 market year but in reality only 16 million tons was shipped through August 2021.  For the current market year to date, cumulative exports of 40 million metric tons of soybeans to all recipients with China as the major importer, are 17 percent lower compared to the equivalent week of the previous market year.  In contrast, corn exports have attained 40 million metric tons, 24 percent higher compared to the equivalent week of the 2022-2023 market year.

Even if all things were equal and there were no punitive tariffs or commercial conflict, China would favor Brazil and other South American nations for supplies of corn and soybeans.  The situation becomes even more difficult with an ongoing trade war and extreme competition and attempts at political and military one-upmanship.

 

This situation is completely beyond the influence of commodity producers’ associations, and this reality should be taken into account with respect to planting for the 2025 season.

 

Should exports fall further from current production levels, there will be a reduction in the price of soybeans even with diversion to biodiesel.  Ultimately, this will benefit all segments of livestock production.  A similar situation pertains to corn, the price of which is artificially supported by production of ethanol that represents a tax on all who eat and drive.