July 31, 2019 12:15 PM, EDT

Tariffs or No Tariffs, US Corn May Be Too Expensive for China

Corn Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

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With or without retaliatory tariffs, Chinese companies probably will show little interest in buying U.S. corn because the jump in Chicago benchmark futures since May has wiped out the price advantage over domestic supplies, according to Yigu Info Consulting Ltd.

Commercial firms are not expected to sign deals as “they have no profit from importing U.S. corn,” said Feng Lichen, chief analyst at the consulting company. The government also has no interest in buying American corn for stockpiles after an increase in prices caused by heavy rains and flooding that cut U.S. planting to the slowest ever, according to Feng.

The United States and China concluded their latest round of trade talks in Shanghai on July 31 after a hiatus of almost three months, with little immediate evidence of progress. China has said it will continue to buy U.S. farm products, including corn, and has waived retaliatory tariffs on some imports, but there are no signs of any significant new purchases.


The negotiations took place against the backdrop of a fresh Twitter outburst by President Donald Trump, who let fly at China’s perceived unwillingness to buy American agricultural products and said it continues to “rip off” the United States.

American corn, without the 25% retaliatory tariffs, was only about 50 yuan a ton cheaper than local supply in the major consuming province of Guangdong in the south, a price gap of little interest to local buyers, unlike earlier in the year, said Yan Zhang, an analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co.

While the wettest weather in decades pushed up futures in the United States this year, prices in China came under pressure from shrinking feed demand as African swine fever slashed the pig population. The country’s hog herd fell the most in June in at least a year with farmers reluctant to replenish numbers while the deadly fever rages, according to the government.

In terms of soybeans, the Chinese government has approved five companies to buy the oilseed free of retaliatory tariffs as a goodwill gesture in the trade negotiations. Still, some traders are skeptical any major transactions will be conducted as crush margins remain low because of swine fever, and there is competition from South America.