In a bid to strengthen agricultural trade ties, a group of U.S. agriculture industry representatives convened in Beijing, marking a significant development amidst ongoing political tensions between the United States and China. This delegation comprises 11 prominent organizations, including the U.S. Soybean Export Council, U.S. Grains Council, and U.S. Wheat Associates. Their visit follows closely on the heels of Chinese grain buyers' non-binding agreements to purchase billions of dollars' worth of produce, primarily soybeans, in Iowa – the first such agreements since 2017.
This rare visit, which has been an infrequent occurrence due to bilateral tensions and COVID-19-related border controls, takes place just ahead of an anticipated meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden in San Francisco later this month.
Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to China, highlighted the pivotal role of agriculture in the complex relationship between the two nations, stating, "We've got a big complicated relationship, but agriculture is the ballast in the relationship."
Officials from the U.S. Grains Council also engaged with China's commerce ministry, addressing concerns related to China's anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures against imports of distillers dried grains (DDGS), a protein-rich byproduct derived from ethanol production, used in animal feed. Cary Sifferath, Vice President of the U.S. Grains Council, mentioned that they proposed discussions with the domestic industry in China to garner support for the product. They also noted that China had recently dropped an anti-dumping case on Australian barley, which may hold promise for U.S. DDGs.
Oilseeds and grains constitute the largest category of U.S. exports to China, totaling $25.4 billion in the previous year, surpassing other commodities such as semiconductors. However, Brazil has been making inroads into the Chinese market by harvesting substantial crops of soybeans and corn. China's efforts to diversify its import sources have intensified since the onset of the trade tensions initiated by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Brazil's share of the Chinese market has grown, with imports of Brazilian soybeans increasing by 18% in the first nine months of 2023 compared to the same period the previous year, while U.S. arrivals recorded an 8% increase. China has also opened its doors to Brazilian corn imports since late last year, with nearly 4 million tons of Brazilian corn reaching Chinese shores, and more expected to follow suit.
This delegation marks the largest industry visit to China since 2016. They will subsequently travel to Shanghai for the annual China International Import Expo, where the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is hosting a pavilion for the first time since the event's inception in 2018.