Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The US and China signed a phase one trade deal on January 15 but Politico suggested that the full details might not be published until later. Experts say China does not want to expose itself by announcing to the market how much exactly it will buy, especially since the country is expected to base its purchases on prices. Overall, market participants are doubtful that China will meet its commitment to ramping up the purchase of US products to USD 80 billion over the next two years.

The USD 80 billion target seemed more unlikely as China reportedly decided to postpone its plan to mandate a 10% ethanol blend in the fuel supply in 2020. The country cited dwindling corn stocks and the limited domestic production capacity as the main reasons, while analysts said the move was to avoid depending on US imports

Trade relations between India and Malaysia remain strained since the Malaysian Prime Minister criticised India’s Kashmir policy back in October. Reuters reported that the government has unofficially instructed Indian importers to stop buying palm oil from Malaysia and that most traders now pay a premium to import from Indonesia instead. 

Malaysia faced more bad news as the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) suspended the certification of plantations owned by FGV Holdings. A previous suspension was lifted in August but the RSPO said that concerns over forced labour had not been addressed after an inspection in October. 

The US Supreme Court is asking the White House whether it should hear an appeal by Nestle and Cargill over a 2005 case accusing them of complicity in child slavery on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. In the appeal, Cargill argues that the plaintiffs failed to show that decisions taken in the US could be linked to the injuries suffered. The Supreme Court decision would potentially give companies “a broader shield from lawsuits by victims of overseas atrocities”, according to Bloomberg. 

The Consumer Brands Association (CBA) officially launched in the US. A journalist said it was a sign of the diminishing relevance of the 100-year old Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the “symbolic end of the Big Food era”. The new lobbying group was born out of disagreements in the GMA and is designed to be consumer-focused.

Another pesticide produced by Bayer, called thiacloprid, was targeted by lawmakers in the EU who refused to extend its authorisation beyond April 30, 2020. The European Commission ruled that it was having a dangerous impact on groundwater quality, along with human and insect health. On the other hand, a spokesperson for Bayer insisted that the company, and many farmers, still believed in the future and safety of glyphosate. Nonetheless, she mentioned that the group would spend USD 6.7 billion over 10 years to find an alternative as a total of 42,000 people had sued the group as of October. 

In France, a plan to quickly phase out glyphosate and other phytosanitary products, called the Ecophyto plan, is being challenged by a strong demand from farmers, the lack of alternatives and a lack of alignment with neighbouring countries. The government revealed that glyphosate sales jumped 10% in 2018 and that it had delayed its Ecophyto plan several times since it was launched in 2008.

Still in France, the agricultural cooperative Limagrain announced plans to cultivate legumes such as peas, beans and chickpeas to cash in on the booming demand for plant-based products. However, Greenpeace USA highlighted that the growing effort to replace plastics with plant-based alternatives might just produce more single-use items and increase the demand for valuable environmental resources. A full life-cycle analysis noted that plant-based packaging alternatives actually have a 10-100 times larger impact on the environment than plastic, depending on the plant feedstock used. 

One of the best solutions to our climate crisis, according to a columnist at The Guardian, is to completely stop farming and to produce all of our food from unicellular life in laboratories. Switching to farmfree food, as he calls it, will address water concerns, the soil quality crisis, make food healthier and save both the planet and humans. A piece in Civil Eats, however, was quick to come to the defence of farming by making the point that farmers are actually some of the most important protectors of the planet as they help society understand how ecosystems work. He argues that for farmers – unlike for most people – a “pristine environment” is not an abstraction but something they actively endeavor to create. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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