China won’t hike grain import quotas for US trade deal: Report

US President Donald Trump had said that China agreed to double pre-trade war purchases of US agricultural products over the next two years. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will not increase its annual low-tariff import quotas for corn, wheat and rice to accommodate stepped-up purchases of farm goods from the United States, local media group Caixin quoted senior agriculture official Han Jun as saying on Tuesday (Jan 7).

The report raises further questions about how China will meet a target of spending billions of dollars more on US agricultural goods as the two countries look to reach an initial agreement to calm an extended trade war.

US President Donald Trump said in December that China had agreed to double its pre-trade war purchases of US agricultural products over the next two years as part of a Phase 1 trade deal to be signed this month.

Han, a vice agriculture minister and part of the negotiating team, said last month that China would buy more wheat, rice and corn from the United States to meet demands for higher agricultural imports.

His comments led to speculation that Beijing could increase the quotas that it issues each year to grain buyers, setting the amount of wheat, corn and rice that can be imported at a tariff rate of 1 per cent.

The amounts for 2020 were issued in September last year and were steady on previous years.

Imports outside the quotas are rare because of tariffs of 65 per cent.

Han was quoted by Caixin on Tuesday as saying the quota is offered to global markets and "we won't adjust it for one country."

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December Beijing had committed to buy an additional US$32 billion of American agricultural products over two years, or roughly US$16 billion a year more than the 2017 baseline of US$24 billion. He said Beijing would aim for another US$5 billion in farm purchases each year on top of that.

China's annual quotas are 9.64 million tonnes for wheat, 7.2 million tonnes for corn and 5.32 million tonnes for rice.

It has not bought large volumes of US wheat, corn and rice in recent years.

Soybeans made up more than half of China's agriculture purchases from the United States in 2017, at about US$12.2 billion.

The agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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