The head of the Illinois Farm Bureau on Wednesday told the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee the China trade agreement is good for the country. That's in spite of trade war damage to Illinois farmers.
Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert acknowledged Illinois farmers sold $2.3 billion in soybeans to China in 2016. Last year soybean sales fell to less than $800 million because of Chinese tariffs on U.S. ag products. Before the trade war begun by President Trump, Illinois farmers sold most of their beans to China. They have tried to find substitute markets, with mixed success.
Critics of the deal have said China's promises to hike purchases of U.S. ag products, at best, go back to the status quo before the tariffs, and there's no guarantee China will complete those transactions.
But Guebert told the panel the deal sets the stage for more talks.
"At least we got a phase one. To hold out and postpone an agreement with China to resolve each and every one of the issues that are important to us, would take years to accomplish," said Guebert.
Guebert also said China did make some meaningful concessions including the possibility of quicker resolution of World Trade Organization disputes on issues such as what biotechnology in U.S. commodities will be acceptable to China.
"With WTO reforms in phase one of this package is vitally important as we look at the number of cases that we have brought to the WTO in regard to China on the rate quota for wheat or their stealing of genetical intellectual property," said Guebert.
Guebert and other experts have said sometimes trade disputes linger for close to a decade and the technology at issue is obsolete by the time the ruling comes. Skeptics have said even quicker resolution of WTO cases won't change China's basic attitude toward technology theft. But Guebert said it's important to note China has agreed to come to the table.
"We have opened that door for negotiations and conversations on how to improve whatever it is: biotech, labor, intellectual properties, improved access, and currency manipulations that are very important, not only to agriculture but to every other sector within these United States," said Guebert.
One Chinese tactic Guebert said is keeping U.S. sellers uncertain whether they will allow goods to come into the country. He noted China had agreed to take genetically modified Starlink corn and then reversed itself as U.S. crops were sitting on Chinese docks. Even the phase one deal, he says will help that practice.
"With anti-dumping and the acceptance of products that we have shipped, particularly those that had a short shelf life. Take cherries from Wisconsin or Michigan that would set on the docks and for any reason they just chose not to unload them or to accept them," said Guebert.
Guebert said he supports the deal even though Illinois Farmers have lost two thirds of their Chinese soybean market to the trade war.
Guebert represents 80,000 Illinois farmers. His own farm is in southern Illinois.
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