By Andrew Galbraith
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will exempt some agricultural products from additional tariffs on U.S. goods, including pork and soybeans, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Friday, in the latest sign of easing Sino-U.S. tensions before a new round of talks aimed at curbing a bruising trade war.
The United States and China have both made conciliatory gestures, with China renewing purchases of U.S. farm goods and U.S. President Donald Trump delaying a tariff increase on certain Chinese goods.
China had imposed three rounds of additional tariffs on U.S. pork, including 25% increases in April and July 2018 and a 10% bump this month, raising the total duty from 12% to 72%. For soybeans, additional tariffs of 25% in July 2018 and 5% this month lifted the total duty from 3% to 33%.
It was not immediately clear if some or all of the additional tariffs would be suspended.
“China supports relevant enterprises buying certain amounts of soybeans, pork and other agricultural products from today in accordance with market principles and WTO rules,” Xinhua said, adding that the Customs Tariff Commission of China’s State Council would exclude additional tariffs on those items.
China has “broad prospects” for importing high-quality U.S. agricultural goods, Xinhua reported, citing unidentified authorities.
U.S. farm groups cheered the goodwill gesture by the world’s largest pork consumer and top soybean buyer – though they hoped for more clarity from China on exactly what tariffs would be lifted.
“The importance of this market to U.S. pork producers is clear,” said National Pork Producers Council President and North Carolina hog farmer David Herring. “U.S. pork exports could single handedly make a huge dent in the trade imbalance with China.”
An outbreak of deadly African swine fever, which has cut China’s pig herd by a third since mid-2018, has propelled Chinese pork prices to record levels and left the country in need of replacement supplies from overseas. U.S. pork exports to China so far this year have largely fallen short of expectations.
China is also expected to step up purchases of soybeans, historically the most valuable U.S. farm export, which China has largely avoided buying since the trade war began last year. Exports valued at more than $12 billion (£9.65 billion) in 2017 crashed by 74% last year.
Before the announcement of additional tariff exemptions, Chinese firms bought at least 10 boatloads of U.S. soybeans on Thursday, the country’s most significant purchases since at least June.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday said private exporters had sold 204,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans to China, confirming a portion of the sales reported by Reuters.
“It is hoped that the U.S. will be true to its words and fulfil its promise to create favourable conditions for cooperation in agricultural areas between the two countries,” the Xinhua report said.
Lower-level U.S. and Chinese officials are expected to meet next week in Washington before talks between senior trade negotiators in early October.
Trump said on Thursday he preferred a comprehensive trade deal with China but did not rule out the possibility of an interim pact.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai, additional reporting by Karl Plume and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Catherine Evans, Edmund Blair and Dan Grebler)