The next round of high-level U.S.-China trade talks is on schedule for next month despite the White House axing Chinese plans for a key official to tour U.S. farms and processing facilities this week.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed Monday night that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will be leading his negotiating delegation to Washington the week after next. (At first, he said it would be next week, but then corrected himself later during an interview on Fox’s "Lou Dobbs Tonight.")
Meanwhile, China is reaching out to the U.S. ag sector, letting producer groups know that the country is anxious for an end to the trade war and tariffs that are blocking U.S. farm exports.
The Chinese embassy in Washington on Saturday held a reception for U.S. farm and industry groups, and the message to them from Chinese Agriculture Vice Minister Han Jun was primarily that China is looking forward to post-trade-war trade.
One industry source who attended the reception told Agri-Pulse that Han also offered a warning that the longer the trade war lasted, the more supply chains would change, along with available markets.
But the atmosphere Saturday was generally positive and optimistic, said Ryan LeGrand, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, who was also one of the guests at the embassy event.
The vice minister “talked about how great a market China is for agricultural products. … He talked about the desire to get back to business. He expressed his desire to end this trade conflict.”
Han, who spoke privately with LeGrand, talked specifically about China’s need for sorghum, dried distiller’s grains and soybeans.
China had intended to conduct even more outreach to farmers and processors outside the Beltway by sending Han and a delegation to Montana and Nebraska, but the White House crushed those plans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed Monday that it was the U.S. that stepped in and cancelled the trip, not the Chinese as some in the two farm states said they had been told. Mnuchin also said the trip could be rescheduled later.
The decision also took President Donald Trump by surprise. He was standing next to the Treasury secretary in New York when Mnuchin told reporters that the trip was cancelled because the U.S. “didn’t want confusion around the trade issues.”
“Yeah, but I want them to buy farm products,” Trump shot back and suggested that “we should get them over there as soon as possible so they can start buying.”
Chinese buyers have been purchasing soybeans for the past couple of weeks. Press reports claim that the latest amount purchased a week ago is somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans for delivery between October and December.
John Baize, an analyst for the U.S. Soybean Export Council, said prices at the time were conducive for sales. Freight on board, U.S. soybeans were about $26 per ton cheaper than Brazilian soybeans, Baize said.
Han also addressed the issue of the cancelled trip Saturday at the embassy event, assuring attendees that it would not impact the upcoming trade talks, LeGrand told Agri-Pulse.
“These are a couple of key states where [the Chinese] buy product,” LeGrand said. “It looked to me like they wanted to get out and do outreach with those particular states. … There are obviously relationships that need to be maintained. I would assume that’s just as important to him as it is to us.”
Mnuchin on Monday said progress towards a deal is possible during the next round of talks and expressed some optimism.
“The good news is, I think, there’s a desire by China to move forward with reforms,” he said. “We have a good framework for an agreement. We’ll see if we can move forward.”
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