U.S. agricultural exports to China are up from a year ago but still far below the amounts needed to meet the pledges the Chinese made under the “phase one” trade agreement, according to new USDA data.

The U.S. exported about $6.6 billion worth of farm goods — not counting forestry products — to China in the first six months of 2020, according to updated data released Aug. 5 by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. That’s the second lowest pace for exports since 2009, leaving just six more months to get to the promised $36.5 billion by China, according to John Newton, chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The U.S. exported about $8.4 billion worth of ag goods to China from January through June of 2017, the base year that is supposed to be exceeded in the “phase one” deal.

The FAS numbers for 2020 don't include the recent large volumes of export sales commitments by the Chinese to buy corn, soybeans and sorghum for delivery in the 2020-21 marketing year, but trade is still going to have to expand faster than it has to meet the promised “phase one” levels of purchases by the end of the year, Newton said.

U.S. poultry and pork exports to China have been strong, but the Chinese still need to buy more of other commodities, Newton said.

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“We need to see exports of other commodities explode,” he told Agri-Pulse. “When we’re today sitting at close to $7 billion, that’s a long way away from the more than $30 billion, including freight and insurance, that was agreed on.”

China is giving exemptions to importers for some tariffs on U.S. commodities, but other tariffs are still preventing purchases of commodities such as ethanol and distillers grains.

The FAS data do show that China is close to meeting import expectations — about $13 billion — laid out by USDA for the 2020 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Newton said in a tweet. “At $11 billion, we’re 85% of the way there with three months to go.”