Washington Insider -- Monday

White House Announces US-Japan Agreement in Principle

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

USDA Official: China Far Short of Soybean Purchase Pledge

China has purchased about only half the U.S. soybeans it pledged to buy earlier this year, a USDA official said on Thursday, after a small sale was reported in the weekly sales recap by the agency. USDA Undersecretary for Trade Ted McKinney told Reuters that Beijing was a long way from doing that.

"Very publicly in the Oval Office, they made commitments for 20 million metric tons of purchases, and only about 9 or 10 (million tonnes) have been shipped and accepted,” McKinney said on the sidelines of a conference in Chicago, where he later shook hands with a delegation of Chinese buyers.

China's Commerce Ministry said on August 5 that Chinese companies had stopped buying U.S. farm products and that it could impose additional tariffs on them, a move that targets rural states that supported Trump in the 2016 election.

NFU President Calls MFP Trade Aid 'Dangerous.’

Trade relief payments to farmers via the Trump administration's Market Facilitation Program (MFP) should have been granted by Congress, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, told reporters. In July, the Trump administration unveiled a second aid package providing $16 billion more in federal aid for agriculture – including $14.5 billion in payments to farmers – following an 2018 trade mitigation program totaling $12 billion in aid.

But rather than basing funds on crop type, MFP 2 sets a per-county rate based on the blend of crops grown in the area, with payments ranging from $15 to $150 an acre, which critics say will cause vast disparities in aid.

“It would have made more sense for the money to come through Congress,” Johnson said during a media roundtable in Washington. He said the action is a “dangerous thing USDA did,” expressing concern it could have on the next U.S. farm bill. The group issued a statement when USDA detailed the MFP 2 effort, expressing disappointment that the agency did not include any incentives to reduce production.

Johnson said Trump's "strategy of constant escalation and antagonism" has "just made things worse." America's family farmers and ranchers "cannot withstand this kind of pressure much longer,” he observed. Despite NFU’s call, no limitations on production are expected to be implemented.

Washington Insider: White House Announces US-Japan Agreement in Principle

Bloomberg is reporting this week that the US and Japan have agreed in principle on a trade deal which will slash Japanese tariffs on U.S. beef, pork and other ag products — but will continue to impose tariffs on Japan’s auto exports.

President Trump announced the deal Sunday and said Japan also would commit to buy large quantities of U.S. wheat and corn.

Bloomberg opined that “Japanese officials may consider that a good deal if they can elicit a promise in return that its automakers will be shielded from threats of more painful tariffs in the future.”

The U.S. President and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the agreement in Biarritz, France at the Group of Seven summit following a bilateral meeting earlier in the day.

“We’ve agreed in principle,” the President said. “We’ve agreed to every point.” He also referred to a “massive” purchase of wheat and a “very, very large order of corn” that he said would happen quickly.

Abe said only that agricultural product purchases, which would be conducted by the private sector, were a possibility. Bloomberg said that Japanese officials had been “spooked by threats of punitive tariffs on Japanese autos and agreed last September to start bilateral trade talks with the U.S.”

President Trump has in turn come under pressure from U.S. beef and pork farmers, reeling from the trade war with China, “who have also been hobbled by a tariff disadvantage in the Japanese market compared with competitors from signatories of the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade deal he rejected.”

The countries have reached consensus on “core elements” and are setting a goal to sign a deal at the end of September during United Nations meetings. Abe also noted that “there is still some work to be done by officials.” If we are to see the entry into force of this trade agreement, I’m quite sure that there will be the immense positive impact on both the Japanese as well as American economies, he said.

Bloomberg commented that “while the proposed deal may provide Trump with a fillip as he heads into his campaign for re-election, it remains to be seen how it will be received in Japan, where some officials have said the country should not give up its leverage over U.S. farmers without substantial concessions in return.” Japanese trade agreements generally have to be approved by parliament before going into effect.

Japanese media reported earlier that the U.S. and Japan had agreed to an outline deal that would lower tariffs on U.S. beef to levels offered to members of the TPP. Japan and the U.S. agreed last year this would be the maximum possible level.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also commented on the content of the proposed deal, which he said would open markets to $7 billion of products including ethanol, as well as beef, pork, dairy products and wine. He said U.S. tariffs on some Japanese industrial products would be reduced—"but that these would not include cars.”

The farming provisions of the deal won some early praise in the U.S. with the National Pork Producers Council and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts among those welcoming a deal they expect “would put U.S. agriculture on an even basis with TPP-member nations.”

President Trump had teased the deal throughout the day, saying he was “very close to a major deal with Japan” and that talks had been held over five months. “Frankly, I think what’s happening with China helps with respect to Japan. But it’s a very big deal. It will be one of the biggest deals we’ve ever made with Japan,” he said.

So, we will see. The President’s heavy criticism of the U.S. Fed and his suggestions of even tougher tariff levies on future Chinese imports sharply weakened U.S. markets ahead of the G-7 meeting and it remains to be seen how that uncertainty will play out in the days ahead—and how the “agreement in principle” will be received amid all of the ongoing tension. These are fights that should be watched closely by producers as they continue, Washington Insider believes.

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