China announced plans to implement a 25 percent increase in import tariffs on major agricultural commodities from the United States, which includes soybeans, corn and corn products, wheat, sorghum, cotton, and tobacco and tobacco products. The overall United States export value for these agricultural commodities to China are worth around 44.7 billion dollars (USDA FAS, 2018a).
United States agriculture relies on the export markets to absorb its excess supply in order to support domestic agricultural prices. The United States is the largest exporting country for corn, cotton, and sorghum, and the second largest exporting country for soybean and wheat (USDA FAS, 2018b). China is the largest trading partner for United States sorghum and soybean, and the second largest trading partner for cotton (USDA FAS, 2018a). In 2017, China bought 81.4% of the United States sorghum exports, 57.3% of the United States soybean exports, 16.7% of the United States cotton exports, 5.7% of the United States wheat export, and 1.6% of the United States corn export (Table 1).
The Chinese tariffs, if implemented, will increase the United States agricultural prices faced by the Chinese consumers relative to other countries. Thus, it will reduce demand for United States agricultural commodities by Chinese consumers. As a result, the United States needs to find alternative foreign markets to export its excess supply in order to sustain current prices. China is the largest importing country for sorghum and soybean (USDA FAS, 2018b). Developing alternative markets for these commodities might be difficult. Although much of the soybeans going to the European Union typically come from Brazil, the European Union (import 14.8% of soybean traded globally) can serve as an alternative market for United States soybeans. Globally, it is a very competitive supply market for soybeans. China could diversify its suppliers in the long run and purchase more soybeans from Brazil (export 39.8% of soybean traded globally) and Argentina (export 17.0% of soybean traded globally) (USDA FAS, 2018b). In the short run, there will not be enough capacity for these countries to increase their production acres. China will still need to buy American soybeans and sorghum to satisfy their domestic consumption.
China is the third largest importing country for cotton, importing 13.1% of cotton traded globally in 2017 (USDA FAS, 2018b). If the Chinese tariffs on U.S. cotton are put into effect, it might provide a near term opportunity for global cotton suppliers like India, Australia, and Brazil to supply more cotton to China. However, the longer term situation could involve more of a re-routing of U.S. exports to other cotton importing countries, like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and India, than a reduction in U.S. cotton production. Recent history of the change in China’s internal cotton policy has shown that the disruptions of Chinese raw cotton imports stimulates the importing of duty free yarn from countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Indian subcontinent (J.R.C. Robinson, personal communication, April 2018; Shurley, 2018).
A study conducted at Purdue University found that the prices of United States soybeans would fall by 2 and 5% under the 10 and 30 percent tariff, respectively (Pack, 2018). Similar effects of price reduction are expected to the other agricultural commodities. The tariff impact on the sorghum price is expected to be larger than the impact on the soybean price, while the impact on the cotton price is expected to be smaller than the impact on the soybean price.
The potential 25 percent increment in tariff for corn, cotton, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat could have a negative impact to Georgia’s agricultural industry. Cotton is the largest crop produced in Georgia with more than 1.27 million acres harvested last year, and contributes $794 million to Georgia’s economy (Table 2). Georgia produced 10.6% (2.25 million bales) of the total United States cotton production in 2017, and is the second largest cotton producing state after Texas. It is also the second largest cotton export state after Texas. Last year, Georgia exported $441 million of cotton, of which $26 million of cotton was exported to China (USDA FAS, 2018a). The Chinese tariffs will have a direct impact on the cotton exported from Georgia because tariffs will impact the entire United States cotton market and the prices received by every United States cotton farmer. It will also have an indirect impact through the prices received by Georgia cotton farmers. Even though Georgia does not export corn, sorghum, soybean, and wheat directly to China, the lower price of these commodities due to Chinese tariffs would impact Georgia farmers.
Pack, D. (Producer). (2018). Study: U.S. soybean production, exports would fall if China imposes tariffs. Purdue University Agriculture News. Retrieved from https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2018/Q1/study-u.s.-soybean-production,-exports-would-fall-if-china-imposes-tariffs.html
Shurley, D. (2018). Shurley on Cotton: More Tariff Talk. Retrieved from http://www.cottongrower.com/market-analysis/shurley-on-cotton-more-tariff-talk/
USDA FAS. (2018a). Global Agricultural Trade System Online Dataset. Retrieved from: https://apps.fas.usda.gov/gats/default.aspx
USDA FAS. (2018b). Production, Supply and Distribution Database. Retrieved April 25, 2018 https://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/app/index.html#/app/advQuery