Washington Insider -- Friday

Lingering Trade Concerns, New NAFTA and China's Ag Buys

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Bloomberg: China To Buy Soybeans, Corn And Pork

China will conduct goodwill buying of soybeans, corn and pork as trade talks between Beijing and Washington resume, according to Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources.

While total volume of farm product purchases will depend on how talks will go, amounts reportedly will probably be smaller than the 20 million metric tons China committed to during the last trade war truce. Those sources say the plan has not been discussed with their American counterparts and are not part of the current truce agreement.

Recall that several past reports of “major Chinese purchases” have not been realized, and so traders will likely be cautious about the most recent reporting/conjecture on this topic.

Meanwhile, some sources signal a list that Trump's team will provide China will include commodities besides the obvious (soybeans, corn and pork) such as wine, nuts (walnuts, pistachios and almonds), dairy, poultry, ethanol, cotton, wheat, rice, sorghum and other commodities.

Besides which commodities will be on the list, other unknowns include the quantities and timeframe for such purchases, and whether or not China has flexibility regarding any purchase commitments.


Commerce Preliminary Decision on Argentine Biodiesel Duty Rates Irks US Biodiesel Group

A potential reduction in countervailing duty (CVD) rates on imports of Argentine biodiesel is being opposed by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB).

The Commerce Department has issued a preliminary decision in a “changed circumstances” review of the CVD rates on imports of Argentine biodiesel, finding that Argentine changes to their export taxes has eliminated certain government subsidies given to Argentine biodiesel producers.

The action, if finalized, would trim the CVD levels to an average of 10 percent from the current mark of 72 percent. Commerce is not proposing a change in the antidumping rates which currently average 75 percent.

"NBB and the Fair Trade Coalition strongly disagree with Commerce's proposal to virtually eliminate countervailing duty rates on Argentine biodiesel,” said NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Kurt Kovarik. “This appears to be an unprecedented and unjustified accommodation to Argentinian producers that threatens to harm U.S. biodiesel producers and soybean farmers.”

Commerce is expected to issue its final finding in September.

Washington Insider: Lingering Trade Concerns, New NAFTA and China’s Ag Buys

There’s a lot of unfinished business around concerning trade policy. One important piece concerns the new NAFTA, Bloomberg says. Signed by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. more than seven months ago, the agreement isn’t so new anymore. But it may be close to grabbing the spotlight again.

With the U.S.-China trade fight sort of on hold, the White House is shifting attention back to NAFTA’s replacement, known as the USMCA – the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. More specifically, the concern now is how to get the pact approved by Democrats in the House.

Not everyone in the administration agrees on how hard to push, Bloomberg says.

On one side, Vice President Mike Pence’s staff and others are exasperated with the slow pace at which Democrats are demanding changes and offering solutions. Those officials see one way forward: force a vote on the revamped deal as soon as this month. Next Tuesday is the first day Trump can send USMCA implementing legislation to Congress, starting the clock for lawmakers to take it up.

On the other side, officials including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer don’t feel a particular urgency to ram a vote through Congress. But his continued patience will require some clear evidence that Democrats are seriously engaged, Bloomberg says.

Congressional staffers caution that sending the legislation before Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives the green light would only cause delay. She wants to do minor surgery to the agreement before Democrats sign on. Too much stonewalling, though, might provoke Trump to give notice he’s withdrawing the U.S. from the existing NAFTA. The U.S. traded more than $1.2 trillion in goods with its two closest neighbors last year.

Mexico has already ratified the pact, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signaled Canada’s approval process is aligned with Washington’s.

So, the U.S. political calendar could dictate the next steps. With no end in sight for a deal with China, the administration likely will want to hail his USMCA as a major trade victory as it campaigns for re-election next year.

One additional aspect of the several trade battles these days is China’s agreement to buy U.S. agricultural products as a gesture of goodwill. Purchases could include soybeans, corn and pork, with total volumes depending on the progress of trade talks.

While the potential purchases may provide some comfort to America’s farmers, the overall cautious tone suggests China is unwilling to promise too much without a deal. The plan hasn’t been discussed with their American counterparts and isn’t a part of the current truce agreement, Bloomberg said.

During the last detente in December, China committed to buy over 20 million tons of U.S. soy, pork and corn. After talks fell apart in May, China said it would continue with the purchases, though it did ask for some shipments to be delayed.

Some Chinese buyers are asking for offers of U.S. soybeans to be shipped out of the Pacific Northwest, said Dan Basse, president of Chicago-based consultant AgResource Co. “No sales that I have heard,” he said.

Chicago hog futures gained at the open last Wednesday, buoyed by hopes of U.S. pork buying by China. “It’s that headline that’s popped us early,” said Craig VanDyke, a risk management consultant at Top Third Ag Marketing.

Soybean futures, generally the most sensitive agricultural commodity to news out of China, closed 1% higher on Wednesday, while corn jumped 3.2%.

However, an influential Chinese agricultural researcher this week said Beijing is unlikely to start purchasing large amounts of U.S. products anytime soon. Barriers include tit-for-tat tariffs that remain in place, as well as tensions over Huawei Technologies Co., said Li Qiang, chairman and chief analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co.

In addition, buying more U.S. agricultural goods also likely will not change Washington’s strict demands for concessions from China on intellectual property. “I’m not sure there’s any point for China to buy more than is needed,” Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at INTL FCStone, said in an emailed report.

Trump said after the G-20 meeting that he would hold off indefinitely on tariffs planned for an additional $300 billion in Chinese imports while allowing U.S. companies to continue to do some business with Huawei, one of the country’s most prominent firms. Still, the White House has yet to reveal details of Trump’s arrangement with Xi, leaving uncertainty about how the two countries will proceed.

The political fights tend to intensify as the election approaches and the new fiscal year begins – and this year’s budget, trade and spending fights likely will be even more intense than usual – and thus will bear even closer watching by producers than usual, Washington Insider believes.

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