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Soybean Falls as US Pushes China to Shift Tariffs to Other Imports

April 17, 2019 at 13:41 by Andrew Moran

Soybean futures are tumbling midweek after reports that US trade representatives are trying to get China to shift their tariffs away from soybeans to other imports. This news came after it was confirmed US soybean shipments plummeted to a one-year low last week, showing that trade tensions, geopolitical strife, and domestic issues in foreign markets are hurting American farmers.

May soybean futures dipped $0.005, or 0.06%, to $8.875 per bushel at 13:00 GMT on Wednesday on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBoT). Soybean prices have failed to generate any momentum in 2019, unable to post significant gains. Year-to-date, the agricultural commodity is down more than 2%, and it could be lower but there is still a lot of optimism that the US and China will strike a new trade deal soon.

Although reports suggest that a revamped US-China trade agreement is on the horizon, both sides are still maintaining tariffs. Washington imposed $50 billion worth on tariffs on Chinese exports, while Beijing has retaliated with an equal sum on US agriculture, including soybeans. Ahead of the 2020 election, the White House is attempting to persuade China to shift some of its tariffs on important agricultural goods to non-agricultural imports. The purpose is to sell farmers that any future trade deal is a win for them.

It was confirmed by the administration last week that the world’s two largest economies are “hopefully getting very close to the final round” and they are considering holding additional in-person trade negotiations. That said, senior officials say the US is prepared to suffer the consequences if it fails to live up to its commitments in a possible trade deal.

Right now, one aspect of the proposal is to have China purchase greater US commodities, particularly soybean and energy, in exchange for China having 100% foreign ownership of US companies operating in China. It is unclear how far this aspect of negotiations will go.

Meanwhile, despite pledges to buy more US soybean, China has seen its imports crater. This is not solely due to retaliation, but the country has been engulfed in an African swine flu epidemic that is causing farmers to slaughter their pigs, who rely on soy feed, in massive numbers. As a result, other markets are overtaking as the biggest buyers of US soybean.

According to the European Commission, European Union (EU) purchases of US soybeans spiked 121% to eight metric tonnes between July 2018 and April 2019. This development makes the trade bloc the biggest overseas market for US soybean exporters.

But new data shows that it is not enough for the nation’s agriculture sector. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that soybean shipments have slipped to their lowest levels since prior to the US-China trade war. Last week, total US soybean exports totaled 460,700 tonnes, down from 888,700 tonnes the same time a year ago. China accounted for just a quarter of these shipments.

In other agricultural markets, May corn futures dipped $0.0025, or 0.07%, to $3.5875 per pound. May wheat futures jumped $0.0375, or 0.84%, to $4.4875 a bushel. May orange juice futures tacked on $0.005, or 0.47%, to $1.08 a pound.

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