Food by VICE

Will China Stop Importing America's Crops Under a Trump Presidency?

Last year, the US sent $20.2 billion worth of agricultural products to China, with soybeans as the biggest export. But Trump's policies could dramatically change that.

by Wyatt Marshall
Nov 15 2016, 8:00pm

Photo via Flickr user United Soybean Board

The Trump campaign has begun to choose the key cabinet members that will lead policy for the next four years, and now more than ever, people are wondering which campaign promises were examples of so-called campaign rhetoric and which will become reality. As anyone who watched a presidential debate or paid attention to the election run-up knows, one of Trump's biggest policy points was cracking down on trade with China. Now, a Chinese tabloid with a reputation for stirring things up is saying not so fast—if America messes with trade, the Eastern power will put a stop on corn and soybean imports.

Corn and soybeans might not be what come to mind when one thinks of trade between the world's two biggest economies, but it's big business. Last year, the US sent $20.2 billion worth of agricultural products to China, with soybeans as the biggest export. And though things have been on the up and up in the last decade, with exports to China increasing by over 200 percent, retaliatory sanctions can quickly become the rule of the road when trade sabers rattle.

When Obama became president, he put a 35 percent tariff on Chinese tires, and China responded with tariffs on American chicken and car products.

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Trump's campaign has laid out some tough talk for Chinese trade. His website says that China should be labeled a currency manipulator by the Treasury Secretary and that the US should bring charges against China for unfair subsidies prohibited by the World Trade Organization. If China fails to remedy trade disputes and address Chinese theft of American trade secrets, the platform promises to use "every lawful Presidential power to remedy" the situation.

An editorial in the China Global Times, a "hawkish, belligerent state tabloid," as Quartz once called it, warns that if Trump follows through on a promise to slap a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese products, "China-US trade will be paralyzed."

"China will take a tit-for-tat approach then," the editorial says. "A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted. China can also limit the number of Chinese students studying in the US."

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Contacted for comment, Donald Trump's press office didn't respond by press time.

But maybe, like other bombastic aspects of Trump's campaign, there will be some hedging on the issue. According to reports, Trump recently spoke on the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time, and the two seemed to have a productive conversation. Xi said China and America need to "promote the two countries' economic development and global economic growth," and Trump said he "believes the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward."

The Global Times editorial seems to agree, and says that "Trump as a shrewd businessman will not be so naïve."

It concludes with a familiar attack on a favorite scapegoat on both sides of the Pacific. "We are very suspicious the trade war scenario is a trap set up by some American media to trip up the new president."