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By Ben Conner, Partner, DTB Associates

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is preparing for its 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva at the end of the year; meanwhile, there is widespread concern that the organization is drifting into irrelevance. But for U.S. farmers, the rules established by the WTO are directly relevant to their work in the fields, and their customers depend on the rules to ensure access to a reliable supply.

Here is a not-at-all unrealistic scenario:

Wheat farmers gather for a meeting at the local country elevator where they sell their crop. The manager tells the farmers that the elevator will not be able to buy any wheat treated with a very effective, foliar disease control product approved for use on wheat in the United States. The reason: the government of an overseas market has announced a zero tolerance for residues of that product on imported wheat and the grain trade cannot accept that risk.

This is but one illustration of the influence that policies in one country can have on practices in another. WTO rules – agreed to by almost every country – set parameters for these policies to ensure that they do not unjustifiably restrict trade. In this scenario, the country imposing the residue restriction may be acting consistently with WTO rules (though it is more unlikely if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the treatment) but it must be able to demonstrate that it met the criteria laid out in the relevant WTO agreements.

Monthly WTO Committee Meetings

Every month, representatives from WTO member countries meet in committees to probe policy development on issues just like this. They ask things like: what is the policy’s objective? Does the scientific evidence justify that conclusion? Did you consider the trade effects of that subsidy? Why are companies complaining that they cannot get an import license from your customs agencies? When will you submit transparency notifications? This work almost never makes the news but is a critical part of the statecraft needed to reduce friction in international trade.

Image representing trade barriers and the WTO role in preventing them.

“When countries impose trade barriers even after receiving extensive pushback in the World Trade Organization (WTO) committees, there will not be a quick solution and it will disrupt trade.”

The farmers in the fungicide scenario will almost certainly not be able to rely on the WTO committee process nor the dispute settlement mechanism to fix the problem before marketing their grain. When countries impose trade barriers even after receiving extensive pushback in the WTO committees, there will not be a quick solution and it will disrupt trade. Yet the committee process itself helps limit the number of ideas that ultimately become trade barriers. Questioning trade practices helps provide clarity, draw attention to a problem that can lead to a negotiated solution, build coalitions around a particular concern, and can serve as a prelude to dispute settlement litigation.

A WTO that Works

A functioning WTO is perhaps more important for agriculture than any other sector. Global agricultural trade is particularly complicated and there is little more sensitive than the food we eat. There are reasons why agriculture is the only economic sector with its own multilateral trade agreement, though other WTO agreements on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade are arguably even more important for the sector. Because of their sensitivity, agriculture issues are sometimes impossible to resolve through negotiation and the backstop of a litigated outcome (with the possibility of retaliation) is the only way to get a government to back down from a harmful trade policy.

Farmers prefer to use the most effective tools available for their crops. When it comes to agricultural trade policy problems, the most effective tools are often found at the WTO. Regardless of what happens at MC12, limiting trade barriers will require robust engagement by governments and industry in the often invisible work of this critical institution.

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On March 21, 2021, Canadian Pacific (CP) Railways announced a $25 billion plan to merge with Kansas City Southern (KCS), calling it a “transformative” remake of the freight-rail industry. The proposed new railroad would be the first U.S.-Mexico-Canada-linked rail line.

To illustrate rail merger proposals

The proposed rail merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern would create a new rail system linking Canada, the United States and Mexico. Map: Canadian Pacific.

Not to be outdone, Canadian National Railway (CN) began talks with KCS in late April, saying it could yield a “superior” rail merger proposal and offering $30 billion for KCS compared to CP’s $25 billion.

Wheat is Watching

The U.S. wheat industry is closely watching both proposals but has not taken a position in support of or opposition to either proposed merger. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), along with a coalition of shippers, has asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which regulates U.S. rail service, to apply its most strict standard of “enhances competition” to both proposals.

Also in April, however, the STB granted a waiver to CP that exempted its proposal from that high standard established in 2001. That ruling effectively lowered CP’s burden for winning the deal. The STB defended its decision noting that because the combination of CP and KCS would be the smallest of the large North American railroads, it would “result in the fewest overlapping routes.”

A Dissent

However, one STB member, Robert Primus, dissented in part, saying, “Special treatment for this proposed merger between Class I [railroads] runs counter to the Board’s responsibility to review such major mergers and protect the public interest.”

While the STB waived CP’s proposal from that standard, it has not yet ruled on the CN proposal. However, CN’s effort to brand the merger as enhancing competition has received over 600 letters of support.

USW’s desire to see increased rail competition in these merger proposals is directly related to their potential effect on U.S. wheat export prices.

To show proposed rail routes

Alternative routes created by Canadian National’s proposed rail merger with Kansas City Southern. Map: U.S. Department of Transportation via Bloomberg.

Rail Rates Affect Sellers and Buyers

U.S. railroads are a crucial part of the most efficient grain supply system in the world. The rail system fulfills an essential logistical function that neither grain handlers nor farmers can perform on their own. Wheat must compete for limited rail capacity with other grains as well.

USW, however, has learned that since June 2014, the cost of wheat shipments has increased substantially, due at times to higher basic rates for shipping wheat and other rail pricing strategies. For Mexican wheat buyers who bring in more than 60% of their total U.S. imports directly by rail, rates have a significant, direct impact on their bottom-line costs.

As rail costs increase, grain handlers may try to recover these costs by offering higher grain prices to terminal or export elevators and, as some in the industry believe, by offering lower prices to farmers. As basis increases, overseas buyers must pay more for all classes of wheat, and that affects demand.

While it is unlikely these proposed rail mergers would make Canada more competitive in Mexico due to long shipping distances, Canada’s history of nationalism in rail policies is concerning as it favors only some shippers. It is also possible a merger would increase Canada’s competitiveness in the U.S. domestic market, while the Canadian industry continues benefitting from an archaic, government-mandated variety registration system that helps minimize any large-scale U.S. wheat imports north.

Next Steps

The KCS’s board of directors must next decide if they want to accept one of the rail merger proposals. In the meantime, the STB will review the proposed mergers.

In response to the impacts of increasing rail rates on our export competitiveness, USW formed a Wheat Transportation Working group in 2018. The group is currently working with researchers on scenarios that will help identify potentially positive or negative outcomes that could result from a merger. The STB is likely to seek public comments on the final rail merger proposals later in 2021 and the Wheat Transportation Working Group will weigh in on behalf of U.S. wheat farmers.

For more information: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/cn-and-canadian-pacific-vie-for-shippers-and-kcs-shareholders-favor.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

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By Ben Conner, Partner, DTB Associates, LLP

The year 2020 will be known for many things, but one overlooked development that could have far-reaching consequences for global food security and sustainability was the juxtaposition of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy and the USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA) at the beginning of that year.

Both plans aim to reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint, but the approaches diverge dramatically. Some key goals of the F2F strategy are:

  • Reduce the use of pesticides by 50%;
  • Reduce fertilizer use by 20%;
  • Reduce sales of antimicrobials in agriculture by 50%;
  • Expand organic farming to 25% of total farmland;
  • Mandatory labeling covering nutrition, climate, environmental, and social aspects of food;
  • Global transition towards sustainable food systems.

These are not necessarily bad goals; one would be hard-pressed to find a U.S. farmer who enjoys having to buy and apply inputs. But without game-changing innovations, the ripple effects could be catastrophic.

A USDA report projects that Farm to Fork implementation would lead to a 12% and 16% drop in EU production and farm income, respectively, if the EU alone meets these goals. In contrast, the United States would see exports increase and farm income rise. EU policymakers clearly understand that F2F regulations could damage its farm sector if farmers in more competitive jurisdictions are not subject to the same standards for exports into the single market.

The Commission explicitly seeks a global transition towards what it calls sustainable agri-food systems while promising to use the tools in its trade policy arsenal to make that happen. If these ambitions are realized on a global scale, the USDA report estimates that F2F would reduce global production by 11%, raise food prices by nearly 90%, cost over US$1 trillion in global GDP, and 185 million more people would be food insecure.

Implementation will be critical to watch. World Trade Organization (WTO) rules relating to technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and conservation of natural resources could be applicable and should limit the EU’s scope for action on imports. However, the EU has a long track record of ignoring WTO commitments (though it is not alone), often culminating in trade disputes. If the EU’s trading partners do not work to ensure that F2F measures comply with WTO rules, farmers and companies in other countries could see these measures become de facto global standards.

A Different Approach

USDA has taken a different approach through the AIA by prioritizing farmers’ needs – i.e., the ones simultaneously working with and fighting nature to produce food – while embracing technological innovation as a key component of reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint. The Commission claims that innovation will be a part of the F2F strategy and promises an investment of €10 billion for research, but its approach appears to be driven by high-level input reduction targets rather than environmental outcomes, food security, and farmer profitability.

The AIA prioritizes both public and private sector research, embraces new technologies, and envisions metrics and scorecards for productivity and conservation outcomes. It does not aspire to regulate everything in agriculture “from farm to fork,” but it does seek to harness technology and ingenuity to reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. These visions do not have to conflict; sustainable intensification can coexist alongside agroecological models and inform each other. Unfortunately, Brussels seems to have included innovation in Farm to Fork as an afterthought while it seeks to impose unrealistic and even harmful standards on farmers who rely on access to its market.

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By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy

Just over a year ago, on Jan. 15, 2020, the U.S.-China “Phase One” agreement was signed, leading to the eventual waiver of China’s retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural products. Those actions opened the door again to the largest wheat consumer in the world after nearly two years in which U.S. wheat producers were all but shut out.

While the final results of the Phase One agreement will not be written for several months, early returns show the agreement paid off in a big way for U.S. wheat producers and their Chinese customers.

The Phase One agreement contained both specific purchase targets for agricultural commodities, and structural changes to China’s import systems. To date, much of the celebration and criticism has centered on the purchase targets — with very little attention paid to the structural changes that in some instances resolved disputes decades in the making.

One dispute of relevance to wheat had been at the center of a WTO case dating back to 2015 on China’s administration of their grain tariff rate quotas (TRQ). In a case the U.S. won in mid-2019, the WTO panel found that China had not administered the quota in such as way as to be “transparent, fair or predictable.” With the WTO case entering compliance at roughly the same time as Phase One agreement was being negotiated, U.S. negotiators included additional language in the agreement to build on the WTO case win and ensure eventual Chinese compliance. That language included stipulations making clear that Chinese “State Trading Enterprises” are subject to the same rules as private companies and specific transparency requirements to make it possible to evaluate Chinese compliance with the allocation and reallocation provisions that are so important to the proper functioning of their TRQ.

With those new rules in place, China is projected to import 9 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat this marketing year — a 25-year high, and almost double their previously highest TRQ purchases. China turned to U.S. wheat producers for a significant portion of that higher import volume. Since the signing of the Phase One agreement, U.S. wheat sales to China have totaled more than 2.8 MMT — nearly 90% above USW’s long-term pre-trade war average. Those imports have come from four different classes of U.S. wheat and helped meet the demand for U.S. wheat from China’s private flour millers. This import volume is likely to make China the fourth largest export market for U.S. producers in marketing year 2020/21, which ends May 31.

Chinese wheat buyers and flour milling managers visited the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore., in May 2019.

Chinese wheat buyers and flour milling managers visited the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore., in May 2019 during a Contracting for Wheat Value seminar sponsored by USW. USW/Beijing Country Director Shirley Lu (second from right) translates as Wheat Marketing Center Technical Director Dr. Jayne Bock (third from left) and a colleague demonstrated falling number analysis.

There are likely to be substantial trade negotiations between China and the United States in the coming months — something wheat producers should welcome. The Phase One agreement was never supposed to be an “end-all agreement” — in fact, when it was announced, plans were already in place to start on “Phase Two,” which were eventually scrapped after COVID-19 turned the world on its head.

With a new U.S. administration taking office this week, many in agriculture are watching closely to see which way the political winds will blow those discussions with China. While there may be a desire by some for a “fresh start” in the China relationship, the Biden administration would do well for U.S. agriculture to pick up where Phase One left off and continue to build on the tremendous export potential for China. President-elect Biden’s early statements and plans to keep tariffs in place on Chinese goods until they can be reviewed are an important first step in the right direction.

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By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

Last week, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) submitted comments to the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on the importance of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation to U.S. wheat producers.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) describes TPA this way: “Since 1974, Congress has enacted TPA legislation that defines U.S. negotiating objectives and priorities for trade agreements and establishes consultation and notification requirements for the President to follow throughout the negotiation process. At the end of the negotiation and consultation process, Congress gives the agreement an up or down vote, without amendment. TPA reaffirms Congress’s overall constitutional role in the development and oversight of U.S. trade policy.”

TPA is important in securing free trade agreements (FTAs) by establishing a known, reliable process for securing congressional approval of agreements negotiated by the executive branch. TPA has been vital for the growth of U.S. agriculture and future trade agreements, by maintaining competitiveness for U.S. wheat producers in the global market.

U.S. wheat producers have benefitted from several FTAs over the last several decades that were negotiated and approved through the TPA process. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was critical in developing the market for U.S. wheat in Mexico, which is now our number one export destination. USW also supported the updates to NAFTA, found in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which will address additional trade issues including an improved sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) chapter. This is a first-of-its-kind provision for regulating trade in goods developed using agricultural biotechnology and updated methods for resolving technical disputes. These provisions should help avoid future challenges that have the potential to disrupt U.S. wheat exports.

The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement FTA is a virtual guarantee that tariffs will remain at zero for U.S. wheat. It entered into force in 2009, the same year as the Peru-Canada agreement. Both allowed immediate duty-free access to Peru’s wheat market. Peru’s overall wheat imports have grown from 1.4 million metric tons (MMT) before the agreement to 2.2 MMT in 2019/20. The U.S. market share is around 20 percent. Argentina and Russia also compete in Peru, which now applies zero duties for all wheat imports.

Grain trade is a high volume, low-margin business. Even relatively small tariff differences can have a detrimental impact on both suppliers and importing industries. Wheat trade can be highly affected by quality, and U.S. wheat tends to be among the highest quality globally. However, quality is not free, and an importer may decide that the value advantage of U.S. wheat is not worth the additional cost of the duty if an alternative origin receives improved market access. Predictable market access and a level playing field are therefore top priorities for USW.

Trade Promotion Authority is a key tool for securing new FTAs. While trade agreements negotiated under TPA do not guarantee success in a market, they have a strong track record of playing an important role in expanding and maintaining access for U.S. wheat producers.

For more details and to read about other FTA’s impacts on U.S. wheat exports, USW comments to USITC can be found here.

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By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy

Last week U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) submitted comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for the annual National Trade Estimates (NTE) report.

The NTE report allows U.S. industry organizations to highlight and comment on trade barriers impacting their trade opportunities to the U.S. government. USW highlighted several key U.S. wheat markets where there are many barriers in market access, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues, export subsidies and domestic support. Two of these barriers are highlighted below.

India

India maintains a trade distorting market price support system that encourages domestic wheat production. This leads to distortion in the international market due to domestic crop size and price. When stocks are too large, India has a history of applying export subsidies to move these excess wheat supplies out of the country. If they were to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and eliminate these subsidies it would create a more level playing field for U.S. wheat exports and increase U.S. wheat annual value of production by an estimated $516 million per year by 2028/29, according to a study by a Texas A&M University economist.

China

China has long been featured in USW NTE submissions with its violations of domestic support and TRQ policies. This year, both of those sections received substantial updates as China works toward compliance in the WTO case rulings and in implementing the Phase One agreement. When China joined the WTO, it agreed to an annual 9.64 million metric ton (MMT) tariff rate quota (TRQ) with a one percent duty but have always manipulated its administration to prevent proper use. USW is encouraged by the recent changes that have promoted extensive use of the TRQ this year but remains vigilant in monitoring the TRQ administration to ensure full compliance with the WTO ruling. That TRQ administration, coupled with real domestic support reforms, are key to unlocking the long-term potential of China’s wheat market for U.S. farmers and to providing consistent access to U.S. supplies for Chinese millers.

For more details and to read about trade barriers in other countries, USW comments to the USTR can be found here. USTR will use these comments to develop its annual NTE report to be released in early 2021.

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By Joe Sowers, USW Regional Vice President for Philippines and Korea

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is very pleased that the Tariff Commission of the Republic of the Philippines has extended anti-dumping duties on imports of wheat flour originating and exported from the Republic of Turkey until 2023. The commission’s ruling, announced Sept. 9, 2020, extended anti-dumping duties that were first imposed in 2014 after PAFMIL, the Philippine Association of Flour Millers, Inc., proved that Turkish flour imports threatened to cause material injury to the domestic milling industry. The decision marks the culmination of a decade-long effort by the Philippine flour industry to deter Turkey’s unfair trade practices and secure a fair and competitive market for wheat and flour trade.

USW and U.S. officials have been aware for many years that the Turkish government employs a complex, inward processing scheme that creates incentives for its milling industry to export flour regardless of price, distorting and disrupting flour markets around the world. In making its original case to the Philippine Tariff Commission, PAFMIL argued that the landed cost of Turkish flour was much lower than imported flour from other countries, lower than the prices of flour produced by the Philippine industry and, indeed, well below flour prices in Turkey. USW provided significant information on relative costs and other factors that supported PAFMIL’s case.

In 2014, anti-dumping duties of up to 16.19% were imposed on Turkish flour. Combined with the MFN tariff rate of 7 percent, the duties were enough to reduce imports of Turkish flour by more than 70 percent and allow the Philippine milling industry to increase production of flour needed to make high-quality Philippine wheat food products. The growth in demand for locally produced flour allowed mills to expand and helped smaller and independent Philippine flour milling companies to enter the growing market.

U.S. wheat farmers, who have had representation in the Philippines for 59 years, will also see benefits from PAFMIL’s effort. The Philippines is currently the world’s third largest wheat importer, with demand for wheat flour and milling wheat nearly doubling in the last decade. Its expanding population, coupled with increasing per capita income, has contributed to a surge in consumption of wheat-based products, especially bread, noodles, biscuits and cakes. The Philippine milling industry purchases nearly all its milling wheat from the United States for its quality and consistency. The impact of PAFMIL’s effort is clear with imports of U.S. hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and hard red winter (HRW) wheat rising from 2.16 million metric tons (MMT) in marketing year 2015/16 to 3.58 MMT in 2019/20.

Source: USDA

 

Source: USDA

However, the original tariffs were set to expire at the end of 2019 and PAFMIL’s request for extension had to make the case that ending the tariffs would encourage Turkish exporters to target the Philippines again, increasing exports through their established dumping practices and, in turn, resume its threat to the Philippine milling industry.

PAFMIL’s successful petition to the Tariff Commission stated: “Once the duty is lifted, Turkish flour will come in at even lower prices and cause damage to the local industry. Extension of the anti-dumping duty will help these emerging independent Philippine flour millers to establish themselves and even expand such that the needs of the Philippine market for flour will be fully addressed.” After finding that Turkish exporters continued to dump flour in the Philippines during the period of investigation and would likely resume large scale exports should the duties be lifted, the Tariff Commission extended the anti-dumping duties for another three years, in fact increasing the top rate to 29.57 percent.

As an organization that believes in the value of a trade environment in which the participants compete fairly and openly, USW was happy to support PAFMIL’s request to reinstate the anti-dumping duties. And we were humbled by a recent letter from PAFMIL Executive Director Ric Pinca to our organization:

“I write to thank you for the support and encouragement the U.S. Wheat Associates extended … in our campaign for fair trade against the Turkish government and its wheat flour milling industry. It was a difficult and uphill fight, but we had the truth and your support behind us. With these, we never wavered in our confidence and we have been rewarded with a favorable ruling by the Philippine Tariff Commission … We couldn’t have gained this victory without your unceasing support, for which we are deeply appreciative and grateful.”

Image shows grain rail cars by a country elevator to illustrate USW comments to the Surface Transportation Board.

By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst   

U.S. railroads are a crucial part of the most efficient grain supply system in the world. The rail system fulfills an essential logistical function that neither grain handlers nor farmers can perform on their own.  

Yet rail rates and charges paid by wheat shippers make up a large portion of export basis and directly affect the price overseas buyers pay for U.S. wheat. Farmers and the grain companies who rely on domestic rail to ship wheat are also aware that rail rates have increased at a rapid pace at the same time that export competition has also increased 

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and many of its state wheat commission membersin 2017 formed a Transportation Working Group (TWG) to address issues of increasing wheat rail tariff rates and U.S. wheat’s competitive market position, especially compared to other commodities shipped from the same destinations to many export terminals.  

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is a federal regulatory board that has broad economic oversight of U.S. railroads. In early July, the TWG met with STB commissioners to voice support for a possible procedure that would make it easier and more efficient for shippers to challenge unreasonable and uncompetitive rail rates.  

In the past year, the STB introduced the concept of a Final Offer Rate Review (FORR) that would help shippers in this effort. Over a 135day timeline proposed under FORR: a shipper could challenge the railroad’s rate; both the shipper and the railroad could provide evidence supporting their position on the rate; both parties could suggest alternative rail rates; and if the STB finds the railroad is market dominant and imposed unreasonable rates, relief could be offered to the shipper as the difference between the initial rate and the new, lower rate offered either by the shipper or the railroad.  

The USW TWG filed public comments to the STB in mid-August supporting the Board’s FORR procedure.  

The FORR method offers wheat shippers a new system to challenge unreasonable rail rates. The TWG believes the FORR method is necessary because while farmers have faced depressed farm gate prices, wheat rail tariff rates have increased continually over time at a significantly higher rate than the railroads’ variable cost to ship the wheat (see chart). Additionally, wheat rates are substantially higher than the rates faced by similar commodities shipped over the exact same routes (see chart) 

The TWG applauds the STB for proposing the FORR concept and believes it will help wheat shippers throughout the country challenge unreasonable rail rates which could help U.S. wheat reach overseas customers at more competitive prices.  

USW, state wheat commissions and the farmers we represent look to U.S. railroads as our vital partners in a mutually beneficial effort to increase the value of U.S. wheat to end users. We appreciate their consideration of how fair rail rates can help make U.S. wheat more competitive on the world market. 

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By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy

The dispute between the Chinese and U.S. government over wheat production subsidies continues. Late last month, the U.S. government officially challenged China’s purported compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute decision that found China spent billions more on agricultural subsidies than their WTO membership allowed. That case was filed in 2016 by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to bring the Chinese programs – and their effects on U.S. wheat producers – under control.

The subsidy programs at the heart of the WTO dispute are China’s Minimum Procurement Prices (MPP) guarantee to Chinese producers. This program would be most similar in U.S. farm policy to our Marketing Loan program. But unlike the U.S. version, the MPP is set well above world wheat prices and, as such, creates an artificial incentive for farmers produce more wheat at the expense of a more diverse range of crops. Last year’s MPP for wheat in China was $8.60/bushel; compare that to the U.S. Marketing Loan program at $3.38/bushel and to current U.S. FOB HRW prices at $5.69/bushel.

It is no wonder then why Chinese producers have dramatically increased wheat production, up 25 percent from before the policy was put in place. Even more distorting to the global market, much of that production is building stocks rather than being made available at affordable prices to China’s flour millers. Those stocks are projected to end this year at an astounding 162.5 million metric tons (MMT), comprising 52 percent of the entire world’s wheat ending stocks. That volume represents more than an entire year’s consumption in China.

 

USDA currently predicts that China will hold more than 162 MMT of world wheat stocks at the end of marketing year 2020/21.

 

The WTO dispute panel recognized this issue in ruling that China had far exceeded its WTO limits on wheat and rice subsidies. In the process of a WTO case, once a ruling has been issued the involved countries agree to a “reasonable period of time” for the policies to be changed and for the offending country to come into compliance. The reasonable period for this case ended last month with China claiming (and the United States disagreeing) that they were in compliance.

A closer look at China’s claims of compliance reveals changes designed only to work on paper. China notified changes to their policy for the coming year that attempt to cap the amount of wheat that the Chinese government will purchase at the MPP. In theory, a laudable effort, but in practice one with little impact, as the cap is set to be at 37 MMT, 40 percent more than their five-year average annual purchases.

As a result, the cap allows China to adjust the math behind calculating their compliance, without actually changing anything about the operation of the program or the unfortunate creation of burdensome stocks. That’s because with a cap set so far above previous purchase amounts, a farmer can approach a flour miller and demand to be paid the MPP. If the miller refuses, the farmer knows the government will purchase the wheat at the inflated MPP. That dynamic allows the distorting effects of the MPP to reach far beyond the actual bushels that the Chinese government purchases.

Market-based reform will have the potential to improve the situation dramatically for Chinese millers, as wheat would be grown and traded according to quality attributes and actual value, rather than that set by government regs. It would also pave the way to reducing the current wheat storage burden – one similar to the situation faced by China’s corn industry just a few years ago. In that instance, program reforms worked and brought stocks to reasonable levels, providing domestic users with more choice and storage capacity.

China’s wheat subsidies and the excess stocks that they produce have been well-documented by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and other groups over time, as has the revenue losses they create for U.S. farmers and indeed other farmers around the world.

USW welcomes the continued work on this case by the USTR and hopes to see an end to distortive policies like this that impede our ability to meet global demand for a diverse supply of high-quality wheat.

 

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By Shelbi Knisley, Director of Trade Policy

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) supports free trade through multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements. USW works closely with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to ensure favorable terms for wheat exports in all trade negotiations.

An opportunity to do that recently allowed USW to provide comments to USTR in support of negotiating a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Kenya. That is because Kenya imports around 2.0 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat annually. Expanding market opportunities in Kenya would benefit U.S. wheat farmers and provide Kenyan flour millers with better access to quality supplies of milling wheat.

Map of Kenya. A detail from the World Map.

USW believes the negotiations should prioritize market access for U.S. wheat and resolution of sanitary-phytosanitary (SPS) issues and in our comments, we laid out these specific objectives:

  • Achieve an agreement with duty-free treatment and improved SPS and other non-tariff provisions for wheat of U.S. origin.
  • Eliminate Kenyan tariffs on U.S. wheat, which would create an advantage for U.S. wheat exports and help offset the shipping disadvantage currently faced by the United States compared to other suppliers, particularly between the European Union and Black Sea Region. Preferential access to Kenya would help make U.S. wheat shipments more competitive in the region.
  • Eliminate Kenya’s Certificate of Conformity requirement or Kenya should accept Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) certificates and other standard trade documents as fulfilling that requirement, without requiring additional third-party inspections on U.S. wheat prior to shipment.

In February 2020 the U.S.- Kenya Trade and Investment Working Group adopted a phytosanitary protocol for Kenya that would allow U.S. wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) access to Kenya’s wheat market for the first time in over a decade. Historically Kenya has maintained a non-scientific SPS barrier against U.S. wheat from this region due to concerns about the potential presence of a plant disease known as flag smut.

Africa is a rapidly growing continent, but one where the United States has had limited opportunities for trade negotiations. A high standard FTA with Kenya has the potential to serve as a model for other African countries to pursue trade agreements with the United States.