FARGO — Trade impact due to the deadly Wuhan coronavirus hasn’t hit North Dakota yet, but officials are keeping their eyes on what lies ahead.
Drew Combs, executive director at the North Dakota Trade Office, said international trade shipments are being scaled back, and that could directly impact the globally-connected North Dakota.
“You’ve got to remember,” Combs said, “seven out of the 10 busiest ports in the world are in China.”
Latest estimates approximate over 43,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, with more than 1,000 resulting deaths. The outbreak of the pneumonia-like illness began in Wuhan, China, near the end of December.
Combs said the first phase of the new trade agreement with China was signed by President Trump on Jan. 15, and many people, particularly in the soybean industry, had been hopeful.
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“Our producers have been waiting to take advantage, especially on the agriculture side, some of the benefits of this phase one trade agreement, and now there’s another delay,” he said.
Stephanie Sinner, executive director of the North Dakota Soybean Council, said it isn’t possible to speak about the coronavirus’s impact on trade at this point.
“We’re only a few weeks into this,” Sinner said.
She said the council has taken some precautions on March events planned for grower leaders and board members in China and Thailand.
“Those have been postponed,” she said.
Traveling suspension, she said, is aimed at protecting those who represent North Dakota’s soybean industry around the world, and their safety is important.
As for the crops, it’s too early to tell.
“I think it’s going to take a while yet to see the impacts on soybean movement,” Sinner said.
An estimated 72% of soybeans are exported globally from North Dakota via the Pacific Northwest, with the largest numbers going to China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Cass County is second in the nation in soybean production by county, according to 2018 statistics.
Across the state, it’s also big business. With 6.9 million acres planted, 6.86 million acres harvested, 35.5 bushels yield per acre, and a total crop value of more than $2 billion, North Dakota is the ninth largest soybean producer in the country.
Soybean production numbers aren’t released by the United States Department of Agriculture until the end of February, Sinner said, so 2019 totals aren’t yet in, but she said North Dakota likely hasn’t seen a decline, or an uptick, due to the virus.
That could change, of course, depending on how long concern lasts.
“It remains to be seen,” Sinner said.