China, US urged to improve agricultural ‘bright spot’ to ‘inject new impetus’ in Beijing, Washington relations

Date: Thursday, March 24, 2022
Source: SCMP

  • Agriculture was the major component that made up China’s purchase commitments under the phase-one trade deal, which expired at the end of last year
  • China fell over 40 per cent short of the overall target under the two-year deal, but agriculture purchases are reported to have reached 83 per cent
Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang. Photo: Kyodo

China and the United States should improve cooperation in the agricultural sector, labelled as “a bright spot” in bilateral relations, to “inject new impetus” to ease overall rivalry and fight climate change, officials from both sides said.

Agriculture was the major component of China’s purchase commitments under the phase-one trade deal, which expired at the end of last year.

China was blamed for falling short of meeting the purchase targets, although Beijing said that it had made the utmost effort to deliver on the deal in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and deteriorating relations.

Qin Gang, China’s ambassador to the US, said that China had “faithfully” fulfilled the agriculture commitment under the two-year deal, which was signed in January 2020.

The event followed a virtual meeting between President Xi Jinping and US counterpart Joe Biden on Friday, which took place as bilateral tensions have further been complicated by the protracted war between Russia and Ukraine.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics said China bought less than 60 per cent of the US exports outlined as part of the phase-one trade deal, although the Washington-based think tank said agriculture reached 83 per cent, with pork, corn, wheat and sorghum exports exceeding their targets.

Under the deal, China agreed to buy an additional US$200 billion worth of American goods and services over the following two years, compared with 2017 levels.

But no progress has been revealed by either side on trade consultations and any replacement arrangement for the phase-one trade deal.

Jason Hafemeister, acting deputy undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Affairs at the US Department of Agriculture, said the US exported more than US$33 billion in agricultural products to China in 2021.

This represented “a big increase” compared to the pre-trade war record of US$25 billion, and “much better than” the US$10 billion “at the depth of the trade war”.

“We have great optimism that we can do even better. If we can stay on track with the market staying open and China continuing to reform some of its restrictive practices, this in the short term would be a US$50 billion market,” Hafemeister added.

David Meale, chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Beijing, urged China to loosen market restrictions to expand agricultural production, with the “constructive” and “consistent” relationship in the agricultural sector critical for overall relations.

“We want to be a reliable supplier of high-quality agricultural products to China, but we need a reliable support environment for customers that we do business with, that means adhere to rule-based trade standards and implement the least trade restriction measures possible to support the smooth flow of goods between markets.” he said.

But despite progress being made, long-standing issues remain unresolved, including the restrictions on China’s seed industry and biotechnology, Meale added.

He said cooperation is under way between the two countries’ agricultural departments, including on black soil and the prevention of food waste, while he also called for more efforts for climate change cooperation.

China has approved an additional 14 US firms to export meat to China since the beginning of the year even after the expiry of the trade deal, according to Chinese customs data. It approved 1,052 firms in 2020 and 101 last year.

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