China Waiving Tariffs on Soybeans and Pork Could Help Farmers and Boost U.S. Exports

China's Ministry of Finance announced Friday that it would ease its punishing 25 percent tariffs on U.S. soybeans and pork as trade negotiations between the two countries drag on.

The news should come as a relief to some U.S. soybean farmers, a group that has seen the market for their products decimated by President Donald Trump's trade war since July 2018. The latest United States Department of Agriculture data on exports to China showed that soybean sales declined precipitously from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, the U.S. exported about 25 million metric tons of soybeans to China between January and September, but only shipped 14 million tons during the same period in 2019, a 44 percent drop.

"It will take years to get back to any semblance of what we had over in China," Vanessa Kummer, a North Dakota farmer, told Reuters in August. Prior to July 2018, North Dakota soybean farmers could expect to export 80 to 90 percent of their soybeans to China over the past 18 months, a market that has since "evaporated" according to Fortune.

A November 2019 report published by the American Enterprise Institute noted that while soybean exports to countries besides China have increased since the dispute began, total soybean exports worldwide were expected to drop by about 22 percent compared to 2017.

The Progressive Farmer praised China's announcement Friday, saying the waived tariffs will render U.S. soybeans cheaper than South American products, which China has been buying since the tariffs went into effect.

While soybean farmers have been struggling under the market conditions, U.S. pork exports were not hit as hard. Chinese consumers returned to purchasing American pork despite tariffs due to the spread of African swine fever abroad. Jim Monroe, spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council told Newsweek that the relaxed tariffs on pork products will still benefit U.S. pork farmers, who hope to see the tariffs removed entirely. "NPPC welcomes reports that China will exclude U.S. pork from retaliatory tariffs. We hope to see these reports confirmed and applied to U.S. pork exports. Most importantly, NPPC seeks permanent removal of all punitive tariffs for at least five years to address China's unique pork supply need," he wrote to Newsweek.

Monroe also stated that pork can be a major component in settling trade disputes. "With African swine fever dramatically reducing domestic production [in China], the United States is well positioned to meet China's need for safe, nutritious and affordable pork and to manage an emerging food price inflation challenge. In doing so, U.S. pork can single handedly put a huge dent in the United States' trade imbalance with China," he stated.

The good news for pork and soybean farmers came amid the latest standoff in U.S.-China trade relations. China initially committed to easing tariffs in September, but as negotiations hit roadblocks, Trump called for $160 billion in additional tariffs of Chinese goods if a deal was not reached by December 15. That threat looked likely to materialize on Tuesday, when it seemed that reaching a deal may not be in the immediate future. "I have no deadline, no," Trump told reporters during a press conference, adding, "We're doing very well with China and we can do even better." The president went on to suggest he could wait to come to an agreement until after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

At a press conference Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated that the Chinese government was also willing to wait. "We do not set a deadline for reaching an agreement or not," she said. "Our attitude has always been clear, that is, consultations must be based on equality and mutual respect, and that the outcome must be mutually beneficial and acceptable to both sides."

Many farmers have stuck with Trump despite the financial hardship that has come with a shrinking market for their goods. Kyle Henninger, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer, told CNN that he supports the trade war and would vote for Trump again. "Other than saying 'I'm not going to vote for Trump,' that would be one way to retaliate personally, but I don't see that happening personally," he said.

The USDA, American Soybean Association, U.S. Soybean Export Council, and China's Ministry of Finance did not respond to requests for comment.

soybean farmer
An aerial view from a drone shows a combine being used to harvest the soybeans in a field at the Bardole & Son's Ltd farm on October 14, 2019 in Rippey, Iowa. Joe Raedle/Getty