China is planning to lift tariffs on U.S. pork and soybeans ahead of high-level talks between the two countries, but it remains unclear how steep the tariff cuts will be, according to U.S. ag groups and Chinese government-run media outlets.

In late August China put an additional 10% in tariffs on U.S. pork (on top of an existing 50%) and on Sept. 1 increased tariffs on U.S. soybeans by five percentage points (on top of an existing 25%) as retaliation for new U.S. tariffs and tariff rate increases on Chinese goods.

Spokespersons for the National Pork Producers Council and U.S. Soybean Export Council say their groups are unclear if the commodities are being exempted from all Chinese tariffs or just the latest 5-10% increases. Both groups say they are looking for answers.

“The (Chinese) Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council will exclude some agricultural products such as soybeans and pork from the additional tariffs on U.S. goods,” the government-run Xinhua News agency wrote today.

China’s Global Times calls the tariff cuts “a reciprocal goodwill gesture or olive branch to Washington” and a direct response to President Donald Trump’s recent decision to postpone for two weeks a plan to raise the rate of tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

“China has a huge market, and the prospects for importing high-quality U.S. farm produce are broad,” says Xinhua, also suggesting the tariff cuts may be dependent on the outcome of the upcoming negotiating summit. “China hopes the United States will be true to its word, make progress on its commitments and create favorable conditions for bilateral agricultural cooperation.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to welcome their Chinese counterparts for new negotiations in Washington early next month.

The Chinese tariff decision was foreshadowed by a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Thursday, as reported this morning by Agri-Pulse. “We welcome the goodwill from the U.S.,” he said, noting that Chinese buyers were asking for price quotations to buy U.S. soybeans and pork.

The tariff announcement is being tentatively applauded by U.S. pork producers, who say the import taxes are putting U.S. exporters at a disadvantage when Chinese demand is at record level because the country is suffering from a massive outbreak of African swine fever that has forced farmers to destroy as much as 50% of the country’s hogs.

“When you consider that China is the largest producer and consumer of pork in the world, the importance of this market to U.S. pork producers is clear,” said National Pork Producers Council President David Herring, who is also a North Carolina producer. “U.S. pork exports could single-handedly make a huge dent in the trade imbalance with China. We are hopeful that this apparent gesture of goodwill by China leads not only to more sales of U.S. pork, but that it contributes to a resolution of U.S.-China trade restrictions."

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