Food, Agriculture, and Resource Economics

What is going on between the United States and China Trade Tariff Negotiation?

By Yangxuan Liu, Adam N. Rabinowitz, Esendugue Greg Fonsah, and Levi Russell

This is a series of posts related to the ongoing trade negotiation between the United States and China and its impact on Georgia agriculture. This post briefly discusses what happened recently in trade policy between the United States and China.

On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed an order to impose non-country specific tariffs with 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum. By the end of March 2018, several countries, with the exception of China, have successfully been granted exemption from the tariff (Shurley, 2018). In response to the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the U.S., China suspended tariff reduction obligations on 128 products of United States origin on April 2, 2018, effective immediately. Eighty four products on the list were food and agricultural products (Inouye, 2018). Roughly $2 billion of United States food and agricultural exports to China will be impacted by theses tariffs (Inouye, 2018). There is an additional 25 percent tariff on pork and pork products, and an additional 15 percent tariff on fruit and nut products, wine, ginseng, denatured ethanol (Inouye, 2018). It is important to note that peanuts are not included in the nut products.

On April 3, 2018, the United States formally proposed $50 billion worth of 25 percent tariffs on 1,333 Chinese products. On April 4, 2018, China responded with a list of an additional 25 percent tariff on 106 United States origin products, which are worth $50 billion. Thirty-three products on this list are food and agricultural products, which are worth approximately $16.5 billion (USDA FAS, 2018). These products include soybean, corn and corn products, wheat, sorghum, cotton, beef and beef products, cranberries, orange juice, and tobacco and tobacco products (USDA FAS, 2018). The announcement made on April 4, 2018, by China did not  indicate a specific date of implementation (USDA FAS, 2018). It stated that the date of the Chinese tariff will be announced later, depending on when the United States tariff actions will take effect (USDA FAS, 2018). Meanwhile, the United States allows 60 days for public feedback on the proposed tariffs of 1,333 Chinese products. The fact that these trade tariffs are not carried out immediately indicates there may be room for negotiation.

Exports are an important component of United States agriculture. During fiscal year 2017, the United States exported a total of $140.5 billion worth of agricultural products resulting in a $21.3 billion trade surplus (USDA Press, 2017). Exports are responsible for 20 percent of United States farm income that supports more than one million American jobs; both on and off the farm (USDA Press, 2017). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) (Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS), 2017), China is the second largest agricultural trading partner with the United States. Last year, around $22 billion of United States agricultural products were exported to China, while the United States only imported $4.5 billion of  agricultural products from China. This resulted in a $17.5 billion United States agricultural trade surplus with China. Soybeans, coarse grains (excluding corn), hides and skins, pork, and cotton are the top five United States agricultural products exported to China (USDA FAS, 2017).

The recent trade tariffs implemented between the United States and China would have a defined impact on overall agricultural trade. According to economic trade theory, there would be no winners for either the United States or Chinese economies. In particular, where United States agriculture runs a significant surplus in trade, there are limited (if any) opportunities to increase the sale of exported goods within the domestic market. If the Chinese tariffs on the major agricultural products stay in place, then we anticipate fewer United States exports which will lead to higher ending stocks, especially for soybeans, pecans, and sorghum. Lower domestic prices for these products will be anticipated in the United States. The loss of a price advantage of United States agricultural products will make global suppliers like the European Union and South America more attractive to Chinese buyers. It also encourages these suppliers to add more acres to meet the demand of Chinese buyers, creating increased supply in the world market and a further reduction in the price that United States farmers can receive for their crop.

United States agriculture has been struggling in recent years due to low prices. According to the USDA ERS (2018), net farm income in 2018 is expected to fall to the lowest level in nominal terms since 2006. This leads to greater risk and vulnerability of the agriculture sector to further price reduction. The uncertainty in trade policy between China and the United States creates concerns among the agricultural community about lengthening the period of stagnant farm incomes.

Meanwhile, President Trump has instructed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to implement a plan and assistance to protect United States farmers and ranchers. The United States Department of Agriculture is working on emergency aid programs under the Commodity Credit Corporation to help compensate farmers and ranchers for expected losses due to new Chinese tariffs. In order for the USDA to make payments to farmers, the actual losses need to be evaluated to calculate the amount of assistance. There is still much more information and analysis that is necessary before we can begin to understand what a compensatory program may look like.


Foreign Agricultural Trade of the United States (FATUS). (2017). Top 15 U.S. agricultural export destinations, by fiscal year, U.S. value. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/foreign-agricultural-trade-of-the-united-states-fatus/fiscal-year/

Inouye, A. (2018). China imposes additional tariffs on selected U.S.-origin products. Beijing, China Retrieved from https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/China%20Imposes%20Additional%20Tariffs%20on%20Selected%20U.S.-Origin%20Products_Beijing_China%20-%20Peoples%20Republic%20of_4-2-2018.pdf.

Shurley, D. (2018). Shurley on Cotton: More Tariff Talk.  Retrieved from http://www.cottongrower.com/market-analysis/shurley-on-cotton-more-tariff-talk/

USDA ERS. (2018). Highlights from the February 2018 farm income forecast. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/highlights-from-the-farm-income-forecast/.

USDA FAS. (2017). Infographic: U.S. Agricultural Exports to China, 2016. In. Washington, D.C.

USDA FAS. (2018). China responds to U.S. section 301 trade action announcement. Beijing, China Retrieved from https://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/China%20Responds%20to%20U.S.%20Section%20301%20Trade%20Action%20Announcement_Beijing_China%20-%20Peoples%20Republic%20of_4-4-2018.pdf.

USDA Press. (2017). U.S. farm exports hit third-highest level on record [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.fas.usda.gov/newsroom/us-farm-exports-hit-third-highest-level-record