China surges to No 1 U.S. farm export market: Vilsack

By Charles Abbott and Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – China bought more than $10 billion of U.S. farm exports in the first six months of the fiscal year to become the country’s No. 1 buyer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday.

During an interview with Reuters, Vilsack said U.S. farm exports during the first half of fiscal 2010 totaled $59 billion, “the best six months ag trade has had.” With the strong start, the Agriculture Department probably will raise its forecast of sales for the year, he added.

The forecast now is $100 billion for total U.S. agriculture exports for the fiscal year ending on September 30, up from the recession-hit $98 billion tallied in 2009 and second to the record $115 billion in 2008. USDA will update its export forecast on May 27.

“One of the factors is that China is our top market in the first six months, well over $10 billion,” said Vilsack. A USDA official said the exact figure was $10.6 billion.

China is the world’s largest importer of cotton and soybeans. It roiled grain markets with a purchase of 369,000 tonnes of U.S. corn on May 13, its largest purchase since 2001, creating hopes of steady, large sales to Beijing.

On Thursday, an official of state-owned COFCO Co Ltd said it bought an additional two cargoes of U.S. corn, boosting Chinese purchases since April to about 600,000 tonnes.

Vilsack declined to comment on the likely size of U.S. corn sales to China.

In February, USDA said China would be the No. 3 export customer this year, displacing Japan and trailing Canada and Mexico. Undersecretary Jim Miller said China could become the overall top U.S. customer “in just a few years.”

At present, USDA estimates sales of $11.7 billion to China during fiscal 2010.

U.S. farm exports are rising due to economic recovery around the world, said Vilsack. “Our hope is that it will continue,” he added.

Exports of cotton and oilseeds such as soybeans have been “very strong,” he said, and livestock sales are “up a bit. The only downside is grains.”

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(Editing by Walter Bagley)

China surges to No 1 U.S. farm export market: Vilsack