The top trade official in the United States says he is aware of reports about the impact of the coronavirus on China's ability to fulfill commitments made during recent trade negotiations but has yet to formally hear from his counterparts there. 

The Chinese are set to ask for flexibility when it comes to ramping up purchases of U.S. products as it deals with the impacts of the virus in the country according to a report from Bloomberg. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer tells Agri-Pulse the request has not reached him. “I haven’t heard that,” he said after a 40-minute meeting Monday morning with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue.

China pledged to buy $80 billion in U.S. agricultural commodities over the next two years as part of the limited “phase one” trade deal.

It’s not just the phase one deal purchases that have the U.S. ag sector concerned. Many Chinese processing facilities and other operations remain shut down because of the spread of the virus. Soybean crushers in the Wuhan province at the epicenter of the epidemic are idled, U.S. Soybean Export Council analyst John Baize tells Agri-Pulse.

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Two of those shut-down crushers are operated by Wilmar, a company partially owned by Archer Daniels Midland, ADM Chairman, President and CEO Juan Luciano said last week. Those closures were for China’s lunar new year holiday, but holiday shutdowns have been extended throughout the country to help contain the spread of the virus.

Originally, holiday closures were planned from Jan. 24 through Jan. 30, but people are being told to stay home longer – some until at least Feb. 9.

Luciano said the Wilmar plants frontloaded production ahead of the holiday and so far no “significant impact” is expected on the company.

U.S. poultry exports to China are just beginning to ramp up after a four-year Chinese ban ended in November, but now U.S. shipments are threatened.

There are between 300 and 400 shipments of U.S. poultry en route to China now and the industry is worried, USA Poultry and Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner tells Agri-Pulse.   

“In some ports, they don’t have the personnel reporting to work to move the containers,” he said. “We’re all worried what will happen. We’re keeping a watchful eye on things.”

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