Agriculture: Farmers Won't Harvest Fruit of China Accord for Years

By Woker, Craig | American Banker, November 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Agriculture: Farmers Won't Harvest Fruit of China Accord for Years


Woker, Craig, American Banker


U.S. farmers may have a long wait -- maybe until late in the next decade -- before free trade with China does them much good.

Ultimately, this month's trade agreement with China could mean billions more a year in U.S. exports of wheat, pork, and other foods to the world's most populous country.

But the agreement would do nothing soon to waken U.S. farmers and their lenders from their two-year-old price nightmare.

"The overwhelming size of China and the sheer number of people who live there provides more opportunity for U.S. producers than anywhere else in the world," said Erika Batcheller, a spokeswoman for the National Farmers Union, a trade group in Washington. "But this isn't going to resolve the farm crisis. It will definitely help, but it's not the answer."

The United States agreed this month not to stand in the way of Chinese admission to the World Trade Organization. China's candidacy is expected to gain steam this week as trade delegates assemble in Seattle for talks.

But admission to the 134-nation group dedicated to open markets could take a year. And increased Chinese imports of U.S. farm goods could take years after that to ramp up.

China, whose population totals 1.2 billion, imported only $1.5 billion of U.S. farm products last year, the U.S. Agriculture Department says. Japan, with just a tenth as many people, imported more than six times as much.

The department expects the Chinese figure to dip to $979 million this year because of the Asian recession. But in a 1997 study the department found that the United States would export an additional $2.2 billion a year of food products if China and Taiwan were admitted to the World Trade Organization.

A follow-up study is planned. …

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