FACT CHECK: Have US Soybean Exports To China ‘Plunged’ Because Of Trump’s Trade War?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

The Facebook page “U.S. Democratic Socialists” shared a meme Dec. 29 that faulted President Donald Trump’s trade war for a decline in American soybean exports to China.

Verdict: True

Since the commencement of the trade war, U.S. soybean exports to China, the world’s largest importer of soybeans, have dropped dramatically. China reported no imports from the U.S. in November, a move that experts and data suggest is a direct result of the trade war. In December, China agreed to import U.S. soybeans, but it remains unclear if the country will return entirely to the U.S. market.

Fact Check:

The meme features a picture of two tweets, one from NBC News stating that U.S. soybean exports to China hit zero in November, and another from Malcolm Nance, a former intelligence officer and ardent critic of Trump, which claimed that Trump has “singlehandely [sic] destroyed the entire US Soybean commodity market.”

The NBC tweet links to a story from Reuters that originally reported the news, citing data from China’s General Administration of Customs.

Chinese customs did not report any U.S. soybean imports in November, an official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation, marking a stark contrast from years past.

China is the largest importer of soybeans in the world, accounting for about one-third of global consumption. The U.S. and Brazil account for the vast majority of soybeans exported globally to countries like China.

U.S. exports to China have seen a dramatic reduction in the last year, according to data from the USDA. From January 2018 to October 2018, the U.S. exported about 8 million tonnes of soybeans to China, compared to more than 21 million over the same time frame in 2017 – a 62 percent decrease.

Many experts point to Trump’s trade war as the reason for this decline. In early 2018, Trump began imposing tariffs on a number of Chinese products, to which the Chinese responded in-kind with tariffs of their own.

The Trump administration has stated the tariffs are necessary to retaliate against China’s unfair trade practices.

“For many years, China has pursued industrial policies and unfair trade practices – including dumping, discriminatory non-tariff barriers, forced technology transfer, over capacity, and industrial subsidies – that champion Chinese firms and make it impossible for many United States firms to compete on a level playing field,” reads a statement released in May by the White House.

In July, amidst continued escalation of the trade war, the Chinese implemented a 25 percent tariff on more U.S. products, including soybeans. With a 3 percent import duty on soybeans already in place, this raised the total duty to 28 percent, driving down Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans.

“The retaliatory tariffs of 28 percent on U.S.-sourced soybeans have resulted in a sharp decline in China’s purchases,” says the American Farm Bureau Federation on its website.

Weekly data from the USDA shows that in 2018, there were 12 weeks through November in which China did not import any U.S. soybeans, all of which came after the July tariff took effect.

Several experts agreed that the overall decline in soybean exports to China is a direct result of the trade war, and the July tariff in particular.

“Of course, that was the cause. There is an extra 25% tariff on US beans that does not apply to beans from other sources,” Wallace Tyner, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University, told TheDCNF in an email.

Todd Hubbs, clinical assistant professor of agricultural commodity markets at the University of Illinois, agreed with Tyner, saying in an email to TheDCNF: “The trade dispute is directly responsible. The 25 percent tariff levied by China on U.S. soybeans led to China sourcing soybeans from Brazil. While U.S. soybean exports picked up in other markets, China’s position as the dominant world soybean importer led to lower U.S. exports than normally seen in the fall.”

There is some hope that China will return to the U.S. market. In December, China agreed to purchase more than 1.5 million tonnes after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce in which no new tariffs would be imposed.

Nance claimed that China now has new soybean suppliers and will not be returning to the U.S. market. Although China has increased imports from Brazil, experts say it’s unlikely China will be able to cut out the U.S. completely.

“Brazil is experiencing some dryness that may cut into the size of the current soybean crop. I do not think they could completely go away from U.S. soybeans in the long-run,” Hubbs told TheDCNF.

Soybeans were the top U.S. agricultural export in 2017, bringing in $21.6 billion, with around $12 billion of that coming from sales to China.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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