China Halts some U.S. Farm Imports, Threatening Trade Deal
June 2, 2020
Chinese government officials told major state-run agricultural companies to pause purchases of some American farm goods including soybeans as Beijing evaluates the ongoing escalation of tensions with the U.S. over Hong Kong, according to people familiar with the situation.
State-owned traders Cofco and Sinograin were ordered to suspend purchases, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter. Chinese buyers have also canceled an unspecified number of U.S. pork orders, one of the people said.
Private companies haven’t been told to halt imports, according to one of the people.
The halt is the latest sign that the hard won phase-one trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies is in jeopardy.
While Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month reiterated a pledge to implement the agreement that was inked in January, tensions have continued to escalate since then amid a standoff over Beijing’s move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong.
The measures to halt imports come after President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed a barrage of criticism at Beijing after it moved to impose controversial new national security legislation on Hong Kong.
Trump said the U.S. would begin the process of stripping some of Hong Kong’s privileged trade status, without detailing how many changes would take effect and how many exemptions would apply.
He also promised sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved” in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, though stopped short of giving specifics.
Still, as China started to gradually reopen its economy from the virus-led lockdown, it had increased its pace of imports, including a more-than 1-million ton cargo of American soybeans in just two weeks in May, and rare purchases of U.S. soybean oil and ethanol.
But then tensions between the U.S. and China began escalating, with Trump blaming the Asian nation for misleading the world about the scale and risk of the coronavirus outbreak. The fallout filtered through to the commodities markets, with China opting to buy Brazilian soy instead of American beans.