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The US$95b centrepiece of Sino-US trade deal is already in doubt

China has pledged to buy almost US$95 billion worth of additional US commodities as part of a phase one trade deal. The market is not so sure.

[NEW YORK] China has pledged to buy almost US$95 billion worth of additional US commodities as part of a phase one trade deal. The market is not so sure.

Prices fell on Wednesday for most raw materials that are part of the agreement, with the Bloomberg Commodity Index down 0.4 per cent. The gauge added 0.1 per cent on Thursday as oil and gas rallied, but soya beans, cotton and corn kept falling.

Traders said evidence of increases in shipments is needed for market gains. The pessimism was in contrast to comments at the White House by President Donald Trump, who said US energy producers and farmers would benefit.

As Mr Trump faces re-election later this year, he's under pressure to appeal to voters in the American farm belt, where the economy has been roiled by the long-running trade war. But while China promised to buy everything from oilseeds to cereal to crude and liquefied natural gas, it didn't specify how much it would import of each product.

Market voices on:

"Signing the deal is the easy part," said Ken Morrison, a St Louis-based independent commodity trader. "I have yet to hear a sound argument on how China will execute this deal."

China pledged to buy a total of US$32 billion in additional agricultural products over the next two years, while it said it will also "strive" for another US$10 billion of purchases. That includes oilseeds, meat, cereals, ethanol and cotton. It also promised US$52.4 billion in further purchases of American energy such as LNG (liquefied natural gas), crude oil and coal over 2020 and 2021.

However, the so-called phase-one deal that was signed in Washington on Wednesday didn't specify whether the Asian nation will lift retaliatory duties it imposed on American goods such as oil, soya beans and LNG.

"There's not enough clarity as to how they are going to do it," said Fernando Valle, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. "It's just big numbers thrown around."

If China does increase purchases, that would give a boost to the US LNG industry, which is facing a global market awash with excess supply. The Asian nation, the world's fastest-growing buyer of the heating and power-plant fuel, hasn't imported any American cargoes for months.

US oil exports to China have also slumped because of the trade war. The world's biggest crude buyer skipped American purchases for six months through November, according to data from the US Census Bureau. Coal will likely be a small component of the accord.

West Texas Intermediate crude rose 0.6 per cent as at 11.52am in Singapore on Thursday after falling 0.7 per cent the day before as American petroleum inventories swelled. US natural gas was up 0.6 per cent after slumping 3.1 per cent on Wednesday.

The potential additional agricultural purchases of more than US$40 billion over 2020-2021 compares with US$24 billion in agricultural and related products that China imported from the US in 2017, before the trade war began.

But the outlook for farm trade is uncertain, given some tariffs are still in place. Soya beans futures in Chicago fell 0.2 per cent Thursday after closing down 1.4 per cent in the previous session, while corn lost 0.3 per cent after an 0.4 per cent drop. Cotton was down 0.2 per cent after a 1.5 per cent decline and hog futures - which aren't trading yet - finished little changed on Wednesday.

"Without more concrete details, we are deeply concerned that all of this pain may not have been worth it," the National Farmers Union, which represents almost 200,000 American farmers, said in a statement. "Given the numerous deals that have been reached and then breached in the past two years, we are also sceptical."