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Canadian Cattlemen Apr 16, 2021

The Chinese situation: Questions but few new answers

The new administration down here started off with a rush. Incoming President Biden early issued a record number of executive orders (50+), nominated and got confirmed a few top officials and then everything else stalled while Congress wrangled over a $1.9 trillion (yes, that’s a T) supposed COVID-relief bill that mostly wasn’t. Clear messages were percolating out that climate change and open southern borders were going to be priorities. Energy independence wasn’t.

Tellingly, an advocate for using anti-trust law and government mandates to break up bigger agribusiness companies such as packers, seed companies, etc., was appointed as manager of the Economic Policy team. Interestingly he is a lawyer, not an economist.

Getting into March, there was no U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) confirmed and President Biden’s foreign and trade policy was not well defined. He has made comments indicating he would be tough on China. But given the federal tax investigation into his son’s business dealings with China, we take that tough talk with a gunny sack of salt.

Meanwhile, tariffs on some $350 billion worth of trade from China are still in effect. China has been busy buying corn, beans and pork from us in recent months. We know they are experiencing some recurrence of African swine fever in rebuilding swine herds but with China, no one really knows. Many assume they are having more trouble than they are letting on. But they are buying grain to feed to something.

Overall, U.S. beef exports began rebounding in the second half of 2020, then took off in November and December. November equalled 2019 and December broke all past records. The shift from foodservice to retail pretty much held all over the world.

The March 2020 U.S.-China Phase One agreement made a much larger percentage of U.S. beef eligible for the rapidly growing Chinese market. According to U.S. Meat Export Federation statistics, the U.S. industry began capitalizing, with exports quadrupling year-over-year to a record 42,813 MT, valued at $310.2 million (up 260 per cent). Since September, the U.S. has surpassed Australia as the largest supplier of grain-beef to China.

Of course, that tonnage total is far behind that of Japan (14 per cent) and South Korea (17 per cent), but major growth from little or nothing not long ago.

Katherine Tai had a March confirmation hearing in committee for U.S. Trade Representative and got support from both parties. The U.S. Meat Export Federation and NCBA both supported her nomination. Tai has worked for the USTR before and speaks Mandarin Chinese. Part of her prior work at the USTR’s office was enforcement on Chinese trade rules. She knows their style.

In her confirmation testimony she said:

“I previously served as America’s chief enforcer against China’s unfair trade practices. I know firsthand how critically important it is that we have a strategic and coherent plan for holding China accountable to its promises and effectively competing with its model of state-directed economics...


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