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US exports may become collateral damage in a faceoff over Hong Kong

In January, as reviews of 2019 headlines included the record number of Wisconsin dairy farms that had gone out of business, President Trump hailed a new trade agreement with China that included a commitment to buy $36.5 billion in U.S. agricultural goods in 2020.

Days later, the coronavirus epidemic began to infect China’s economy.

Then it became a pandemic that shuttered much of the U.S. economy. In the first 3 months of the year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported China had only purchased $3.35 billion in goods, according to Bloomberg News.

And now what remains may be sunk in the remnants of a faceoff over the political autonomy of Hong Kong and President Trump’s continued reliance on rhetoric focused on China’s handing of the outbreak as a means to distract from the administration’s early shortcomings.

Bloomberg reports the Chinese government has ordered a pause in American farm products, at least of soybeans and pork.

Wisconsin agricultural exports to China fell 28 percent in 2019 as a trade war rolled on and China responded with retaliatory tariffs against products coming from Wisconsin and elsewhere. And President Trump’s threats against other trading partners took their toll as Wisconsin farm exports fell 41 percent, nearly a quarter-billion dollars, to the state’s top 10 export markets including Canada, Mexico and South Korea, according to the International Agribusiness Center for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Last July, Trump visited Milwaukee and said, in anticipation of a new China agreement, that things were already getting better. 

“Some of the farmers are doing well… We’re over the hump,” he said. 

Beijing is trying to push new “national security” rules that threaten, the New York Times reports, to undermine the independence given to Hong Kong’s judicial system and the civil liberties that were meant to be left in place after Great Britain gave up control of the city it had ruled from 1842 to 1997.

Last week it was reported that China had increased the amount of soybeans it purchased from Brazil, reaffirming worries that even if the Trump administration and Beijing de-escalate tensions, it may be too late for Wisconsin to convince Chinese buyers to switch back.