China's record farm-goods spree may still miss pledge to US

China is expected to buy a record US$27 billion (S$36 billion) worth of farm-related goods from the US. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - China is projected to once again become the top US agricultural export market this fiscal year - but it could still fall short of meeting its lofty trade commitments to the Trump administration.

The Asian nation is expected to buy a record US$27 billion (S$36 billion) worth of farm-related goods from the United States in the 12 months ending Sept 30, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a report on Monday (Nov 23).

That's US$8.5 billion more than the agency projected in August, and would make China the biggest American agricultural market for the first time since fiscal 2017, before the trade war.

The USDA outlook puts China closer to fulfilling its promise to buy US$43.5 billion in US agricultural goods in calendar year 2021, part of Beijing's phase one trade deal with the Trump administration.

But the new estimate still suggests that meeting the target would be an uphill climb as it will require large purchases in the last three months of next year.

For fiscal year 2020 ended in September, USDA data shows China buying US$17.1 billion in farm-related goods, up from an August estimate of US$14 billion. That puts the Chinese far behind its pledge to buy $36.5 billion worth of US agricultural products in the current calendar year.

China's phase one deal promises were always political commitments, but if China even gets within "shooting distance" of the trade goals, it will be a "win for the industry", Mr Dan Kowalski, vice-president of research at CoBank, said by phone.

"It's encouraging that things have been moving in the right direction."

China's buying pace has picked up significantly in recent months amid tighter-than-expected world grain and oilseed supplies and the need to feed a massive number of hogs as its herd recovers from African swine fever.

China earlier surpassed for the first time ever an annual corn-import quota set by the World Trade Organisation as the second-largest economy continues to buy grain to feed a growing hog population.

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