China will fully comply with its promises to buy U.S. ag commodities and the U.K. will be held to demands that it lift barriers on American farm products, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers Wednesday.
Concerns are mounting that China won’t make all of the promised “phase one” purchases and that the U.K. will not relinquish its European-style barriers to U.S. beef and poultry during ongoing trade negotiations. Lighthizer stressed the concerns are unwarranted.
China promised to buy $36.5 billion worth of U.S. ag this calendar year and Lighthizer, testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee in a four-hour hearing, said China has already purchased more than $10 billion worth of soybeans, cotton, sorghum, pork and other commodities and the country is well on its way to meet the goal.
“I think we have what is an excellent agreement,” Lighthizer said. “We expect it to be honored.”
After the Ways and Means hearing, Lighthizer will head over to testify before the Senate Finance Committee where he will also discuss many of the same trade issues.
One of the surest signs China is making good on its promises to boost ag imports is the fact that buyers there have purchased about $1 billion worth of cotton so far in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered retail stores across the world and demand for textiles plummeted.
“Every indication is that in spite of this COVID-19, they are going to do what they say,” Lighthizer said.
He stopped short of saying exactly how much cotton China agreed to buy under “phase one” — he stopped in mid-sentence when he realized the U.S. agreed to keep that information secret — but he did say he expects China to buy a lot more.
“We believe they bought a fair amount,” he said. “They have a fair amount to go and I expect them to live up to the agreement.”
Lighthizer said he is also counting on massive sales of soybeans to China in the final months of the year, and recent buying binges for delivery after Sept. 1 suggest he likely will not be disappointed,
“Our objective is to (sell to China) as much of all the other commodities as possible with the realization at the end of the year there will be a lot of soybean sales,” he said.
But China wasn’t the only topic on lawmakers' minds Wednesday. Several lawmakers pushed Lighthizer for assurances that he would not allow the U.K. to keep in place onerous restrictions on U.S. beef and chicken as the two countries negotiate a free-trade agreement.
Lighthizer obliged, stressing strongly that the U.K. must be willing to abandon its EU-origin bans on beef from cattle raised with growth hormones as well chicken that has been treated with antimicrobial rinses to prevent salmonella contamination.
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He scoffed at British and European claims that U.S. food is unsafe or unsanitary, calling them thinly-veiled protectionism.
“We will have agricultural problems in negotiations, I can guarantee you. I’m hopeful that we’ll work our way through them,” Lighthizer said, “but on areas of American agriculture, this administration is not going to compromise. We either have fair access for agriculture or we won’t have a deal with (the U.K. or the EU).”
Nevertheless, Lighthizer predicted negotiations with the U.K., which entered into the second round of talks this week, will produce a free-trade agreement that will please both sides.
“I haven’t gotten to the point where you’d say, well, this or that issue is going to blow things up.”
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