Trump touts effect of his call with China's Xi on U.S. beef exports

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he thinks a conversation he had with China’s President Xi Jinping has had an impact on U.S. beef exports to China, where American exporters are now selling “a lot” of beef.

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The volume of U.S. beef exported to China is a small slice of the American beef export market, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Beijing lifted a 14-year ban on U.S. beef imports about 10 months ago, but the country’s purchases are dwarfed by sales to Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

Sales of beef to China this year represent less than 1 percent of U.S. beef exports. About 1,100 tonnes of U.S. beef has been shipped to China this year through April 5 - while another 274 tonnes were sold but yet to ship, according to the latest USDA data. Overall, the U.S. has sold nearly 360,000 tonnes of beef for export this year, of which almost 211,000 tonnes have been shipped.

Trump, speaking at a White House meeting with legislators from top agriculture states, including Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, said his conversation with Xi “made a big impact.” Trump did not say when this conversation with Xi took place.

The lawmakers were advocating for the president to ease tariff-related strains on American farmers worried about rising tensions between the United States and China, a top agricultural export market.

“I think, Governor, that made a big impact. And they’re selling a lot of beef in China. That hadn’t been for 14, 15 years. They were not allowed to sell beef in China,” Trump said.

China proposed tariffs last week on U.S. beef, soybeans and other agricultural goods in the deepening trade dispute.

Some U.S. beef shipped to Hong Kong is later brought into mainland China. If beef sales to Hong Kong of 43,055 tonnes year-to-date were included, the combined sales would account for about 12 percent of the U.S. beef export market.

Last year, about 3,000 tonnes of U.S. beef valued at $31 million was shipped to China, making it the No. 18 market.

“When China lifted the ban, everyone got all whipped up,” said CHS Hedging analyst Steve Wagner. “But I don’t think demand is going to increase substantially. It will be incremental.”

Overall U.S. beef exports were up about 10 percent so far in 2018, USDA data showed.

“Exports have been good but they have not been good because of China,” Wagner said.

Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Makini Brice in Washington; editing by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, David Gaffen and Phil Berlowitz in New York