China is buying a lot more U.S. ag commodities and tearing down major import restrictions — just as it promised in the “phase one” trade deal — but the successes of the pact are being drowned out by growing animosity on both sides of the Pacific.

Last Thursday, the Department of Agriculture and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released a new compilation of the latest “phase one” accomplishments, such as China lifting its bans on U.S. blueberries, barley and avocados.

“China has worked with the United States to implement measures that will provide greater access for U.S. producers and exporters to China’s growing food and agricultural markets,” USTR Robert Lighthizer said. “Under President Trump’s leadership, we fully expect this agreement to be a success.”

But President Donald Trump lashed out at the country on the same day.

“It came from China,” he said about COVID-19 after a meeting with African-American leaders at a Ford Plant in Michigan. “We're not happy about it. We just signed a trade deal. The ink wasn't dry and, all of a sudden, this floated in. We are not going to take it lightly.”

Just Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien compared China’s handling of COVID-19 to how the Soviet Union dealt with the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl.

“We want good relations with China and with the Chinese people, but unfortunately we're seeing just action after action by the Chinese Communist Party that makes it difficult,” O’Brien said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And with respect to the trade deal, we'll see if they live up to it. But we're dealing in a new world now with (COVID-19). They unleashed a virus on the world that's destroyed trillions of dollars in American economic wealth that we're having to spend to keep our economy alive, to keep Americans afloat during this virus. So we’re in a very different world.”

It’s unclear if China will live up to its promise to buy $36.5 billion worth of U.S. ag and food products this year, but the country is buying a lot of soybeans, corn, wheat, sorghum, pork and beef.

USDA released its latest daily export sales report Tuesday showing a new sale of 258,000 metric tons of soybeans to China, 60,000 tons of which will be shipped in the 2019-20 marketing year. The remaining 198,000 tons is for 20-21 delivery.

More purchase announcements are expected later this week.

From May 8 through May 14, the latest compilation of trade data available, the Chinese purchased about 1.2 million tons of U.S. soybeans. That seven-day period saw Chinese companies agree to buy 734,400 tons of U.S. soybeans for delivery in the current 2019-20 marketing year and 462,000 tons for 2020-21.

It’s just the latest Chinese buying spree of U.S. soybeans, even as cheap Brazilian soybeans continue to flood the international market, and sources expect Chinese buyers to snap up a lot more from the U.S. this week.

Up until May 14, the U.S. has exported 12.721 million tons of soybeans to China in the current marketing year that started Sept. 1, says John Baize, an adviser for the U.S. Soybean Export Council. On top of that are 1.83 million tons that have been sold to Chinese buyers for 2019-20 but have yet to be shipped.

Leaving out the undelivered sales, that’s still a little more than double the 6.34 million tons for the same time period in the previous year.

And then there are the sales for 2020-21. So far, sales for the next marketing year total 1.03 million tons.

Baize says he expects China will still be in the market for some old crop, but most of the purchases from here on out will be new crop and sales will really start to ramp up in late July or early August.

John Baize,

John Baize, USSEC

But that’s often a distant backdrop to the growing U.S.-Chinese animosity over China’s role and culpability in the COVID-19 pandemic.

White House officials continue to call COVID-19 the “China virus” and last week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched into a biting tirade that went far beyond just blaming the country for allowing the virus to spread to the rest of the world.

“For several decades, we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the WTO as a developing nation,” Pompeo said before taking any questions at a press briefing. “That didn’t happen. We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact.”

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Beijing is pushing back. Chinese government spokesman Zhang Yesui on Thursday threatened retaliation in response to a House bill by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., that would allow U.S. citizens to sue China for covering up information about COVID-19.

Zhang warned that China will monitor the legislation and “firmly respond with countermeasures accordingly.”

Meanwhile, USSEC’s Baize is still expecting that China is gearing up to significantly increase imports of U.S. soybeans, so long as importers continue to be able to avoid tariffs.

“The bottom line is we always expected most of their purchases will be shipped beginning in earnest in late July or early August and go through the rest of the year,” he said.

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