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Soybeans at a Chinese port. Photo: TPG/Getty Images

China's sharpest weapon against the U.S. is the volume of soybeans it imports, but it'll be difficult to maintain the war against American agriculture for too long given China's demand for the product.

The big picture: The Chinese are reliant on U.S. soybeans for animal feed — primarily for pigs — and cooking oil. Last year, China spent $14 billion on American soybeans, reports the New York Times' Raymond Zhong.

The details
  • Beijing bought a third of U.S. soybeans last year, and — in terms of dollar value — its the No. 2 U.S. import China buys from the U.S. behind airplanes, per Zhong.
  • But China hasn't been able to bolster its own growing capacity to curb reliance on the U.S. The government has introduced incentives for farmers but serious obstacles remain.
  • Beijing will be hard-pressed to find another country that can produce as large a volume of soybeans as American farmers can. Brazil and Mexico are two other sources for soybeans, but they can't match the U.S. in capacity.
What China is doing
  • Cao Xiumin, a Chinese farmer, told Zhong that "she is not producing much more today than she was a decade ago. Her fields are small and not irrigated. The new, supposedly higher-yielding seeds promoted by the government are not much better than the older varieties."
  • Provincial governments offered subsidies to local farmers for switching from growing corn to growing soybeans, but many farmers have to grow crops on a rotation to keep the soil healthy.
  • "China would need to dedicate a huge fraction of the entire nation’s farmland — between a quarter and a third, by various estimates — to soy if it wanted to be self-sufficient," writes Zhong.

The bottom line: "[S]oy-producing states like Iowa and Illinois might not feel the tariffs’ impact right away" because China likely will not be able to find another soybean supplier overnight, Zhong reports.

Go deeper

Updated 32 mins ago - Health

WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Health measures taken to combat COVID-19 before the emergence of Omicron would also help against the new variant of concern, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

What they're saying: Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said during a virtual briefing broadcast from Manila, Philippines, that border controls imposed by the U.S. and other nations can "buy time" to deal with the variant, but warned "every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases."

2 hours ago - Health

Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nevada's Public Employees' Benefit Program Board voted Thursday to charge workers enrolled in public employee health insurance plans a surcharge of up to $55 a month if they're not vaccinated against COVID-19, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state to announce such a move, per AP.

Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Getty Images

The state of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Thursday in an attempt to block the enforcement of its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

Why it matters: The move comes one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's (R) request to exempt the state's National Guard from the mandate.