China still considering curbs on U.S. soybean imports: U.S. soybean council

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is still considering import curbs on U.S. soybeans in retaliation for moves by Washington to impose trade tariffs, U.S. Soybean Export Council Asia director Paul Burke said on Thursday, following a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture.

FILE PHOTO: A sample of clean, processed soybeans at Peterson Farms Seed facility in Fargo, North Dakota, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Dan Koeck/File Photo

The ministry requested an informal meeting in Beijing with the council, Burke told Reuters by phone. The meeting, which took place on Monday, was attended by the U.S. trade group’s China director, Xiaoping Zhang, along with officials from the ministry’s department of international relations.

In his comments, Burke rejected a report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that the council’s meeting with the ministry had been part of official talks aimed at shielding American soybeans.

“The agriculture ministry wanted to discuss our view of the soybean industry regarding tariffs and the supply and demand situation,” Burke said. “We are cautiously optimistic soybeans won’t be targeted, but they’re still on the table.”

A trade spat between the world’s top two economies is escalating, with U.S. President Donald Trump preparing to slap tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports over the alleged forced transfer of intellectual property.

Soybeans were the top U.S. agricultural export to China last year, worth more than $12 billion. China is the world’s biggest soybean importer and the U.S. is its second-largest supplier.

In an editorial on Thursday, the China Daily newspaper said Beijing could target a broad range of U.S. businesses from agriculture to aircraft, autos and semiconductors if the conflict escalates.

The comments came as Purdue University in the U.S. published on Thursday a study conducted on behalf of the council estimating tariffs would cause an annual economic loss to the United States of between $1.7 billion and $3.3 billion.

“Chinese economic well-being also falls if they impose a tariff, in some cases as much or more than for the U.S.,” said Wally Tyner, Purdue agricultural economist who was a co-author of the report.

Chinese soybean imports from the U.S. could drop by as much as 71 percent if the country imposed trade restrictions, the study found.

Click here for the study:

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Christian Schmollinger