U.S.-China Negotiations Are ‘Picking Up,’ USDA’s Censky Says

(Bloomberg) -- Trade discussions between the U.S. and China have picked up as the March 1 truce deadline nears, according to Steve Censky, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Deputy Secretary.

A team from the agency was part of the talks last week. The discussions were “productive,” Censky told reporters at an industry conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, Monday.

High-level gatherings in Beijing have made little obvious progress so far, leaving much work to be done before Donald Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping look to seal a deal at a yet-to-be scheduled summit. Still, Trump said he’s willing to delay further tariff increases that would’ve been triggered March 1, so long as there’s movement toward a “real deal.”

“The pace of negotiations is picking up as we approach March 1,” Censky said. In terms of discussions over agriculture trade, last week, “we were able to make some progress, close some gaps, but we still have ways to go,” he said.

China has bought U.S. soybeans in recent months amid a temporary trade truce between the nations. The Asian country’s tariffs on American agriculture sapped demand in 2018, reverberating across the farm economy. Censky declined to comment on whether there was an agreement for China to make more purchases of U.S. farm goods during the truce.

“Our goal in these negotiations when it comes to agriculture is not only get some very robust purchase commitments, but to really get the fundamental structural reforms that are necessary over the long term,” he said.

The U.S. is seeking “commitments from China that they are going to fill their tariff-rate quotas” that they’ve pledged to uphold under World Trade Organization agreements. The quotas pertain to shipments of wheat, corn and rice. The U.S. has said that China has at times fallen short of this commitment, which includes 9.64 million tons of wheat and 7.2 million tons of corn.

The USDA also “wants to see that China is “going to have a functioning biotech approval process -- that they are going to abide by international standards when it comes to animal drugs, veterinary drugs and hormones,” Censky said.

“I don’t think we will solve everything this week either, but if we can narrow the difference and make progress and we can report to the president and the trade ambassador can report to the president that we are making progress and that we are close, I think that will be positive,” he said.

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