Nation & World

China halts some soy, pork imports

Move threatens trade deal

The ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Chicago container ship departs the Yangshan Deepwater Port in Shanghai on March 23.
The ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Chicago container ship departs the Yangshan Deepwater Port in Shanghai on March 23. (Bloomberg)

Chinese government officials told major state-run agricultural companies to pause purchases of some American farm goods — including soybeans — as Beijing evaluates the ongoing escalation of tensions with the United States over Hong Kong, according to people familiar with the situation.

State-owned traders Cofco and Sinograin were ordered to suspend purchases, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private matter.

Chinese buyers also have canceled an unspecified number of U.S. pork orders, one of the people said. Private companies haven’t been told to halt imports, according to one of the people.

Iowa has exported 12.57 million metric tons to China so far this year, according to the Iowa Soybean Association. The organization’s public relations manager, Katie James, notes that is down from just more than 36 million metric tons before the U.S.-China trade war.

The halt is the latest sign that the hard won phase-one trade deal between the world’s two biggest economies is in jeopardy.

While Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month reiterated a pledge to implement the agreement that was inked in January, tensions have continued to escalate since then amid a standoff over Beijing’s move to tighten its grip on Hong Kong.

The measures to halt imports come after President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed a barrage of criticism at Beijing after it moved to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong.

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Critics say it will crack down on dissent and undermine the “one country, two systems” principle that has kept Hong Kong autonomous of the mainland since the 1997 handover from the British.

Cofco and Sinograin are China’s key importers of farm goods. They had been making pricing inquiries for 20 to 30 cargoes of U.S. soybeans on Friday but held off on going through with purchases after Trump indicated he would punish Chinese officials, one of the people said.

Beijing is waiting to see what steps Trump takes before deciding its next move, one of the people said.

No one from the commerce ministry responded to a fax seeking comment. Officials from Sinograin and Cofco also didn’t respond to calls.

Trump said the U.S. would begin the process of stripping some of Hong Kong’s privileged trade status, without detailing how many changes would take effect and how many exemptions would apply.

He also promised sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved” in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, though stopped short of giving specifics.

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