December 14, 2018 10:45 AM, EST

China Is Said to Plan to Buy US Corn as Soon as January

CornLuke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Chinese officials are preparing to restart purchases of American corn as soon as January, another sign that the Asian nation is working on a lasting detente with the U.S.

China may buy at least 3 million metric tons of U.S. corn, according to people familiar with the discussions, who declined to be identified as the information is confidential. The imports are likely to start as early as January, following the American soybean purchases, they said.

The government is also considering various options for how to handle the 25% retaliatory tariffs on American corn that China adopted in July, the people said. Current ideas include:

Allowing the U.S. commodity to be purchased as part of a 7.2 million ton annual corn import quota that is only subject to a lower levy

Reimbursing the 25% tariff to buyers purchasing outside the quota

Waiting to purchase until after the 25% tariffs are removed

Corn Purchases Graph

Bloomberg News

The plan to resume imports follows reports China began significant purchases of American soybeans this week after President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Donald Trump agreed on a 90-day truce to work toward a trade deal earlier this month. China’s retaliatory tariffs struck at Trump’s heartland voters, who saw agriculture shipments to the world’s biggest buyer of commodities plunge, stockpiles accrue across the U.S., and futures drop.

China effectively suspended corn purchases from the world’s biggest producer in July by imposing the 25% tariff as the two nations escalated their trade war. Purchases within the annual corn import quota would allow buyers to pay just a 1% tariff, while those outside the quota are subject to a 65% duty.

Unlike soybeans, where China has historically purchased about a third of the U.S. harvest, the Asian nation hasn’t been a significant buyer of American corn for several seasons. China is the world’s second-largest producer of the grain, and the last time it bought more than 3 million tons of U.S. corn in a calendar year was 2013, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Shipments of American grain will help replenish China’s depleted reserves and cover a widening domestic shortfall, according to analysts. Purchases for state reserves would allow importers to avoid the duty and benefit from cheaper U.S. produce, just as China’s domestic need for animal feed, starch and sweeteners grows apace, the analysts said.

China is forecast to import 5 million tons of corn in the 12 months that began in October, the most in four years, USDA forecasts.