In mid-January the United States and China signed a trade deal in which China promised to buy more U.S. agricultural products. However, economists have been skeptical that China will uphold its end of the deal, and the current coronavirus scare isn't improving the odds.

Since the trade deal was signed, "Chinese buyers have booked only modest amounts of U.S. soybeans, pork and cotton, according to government data. Sure, it’s early days, and coronavirus is an ongoing emergency. Barges aren’t ordered, loaded and delivered that quickly anyway," Michael Hirtzer reports for Bloomberg. "But markets are noticing the dearth of buying activity, wondering how big of a dent to demand the health scare will cause."

Since the deal was signed, futures prices for soybeans dropped 4.4 percent in Chicago and pork went down 4.9%. China has traditionally purchased large amounts of both from the U.S., but recently bought half its yearly soy needs from the upcoming harvest in Brazil, mainly south of the equator.

To complicate matters, "as the coronavirus spreads, slower economic growth and travel restrictions could limit the need for imports in China’s food pipeline," Hirtzer reports. "Beijing pushed for wording in the accord that ensured its purchases complied with both World Trade Organization rules and the laws of supply and demand — insulating it somewhat against unforeseen events like a demand shock."

The wording of the trade deal "allows China to seek flexibility 'in the event that a natural disaster or other unforeseeable event', [which] makes it hard for one side to comply with the terms of the deal," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Daily Agriculture.

It's unclear what will happen if China doesn't fulfill its promises to buy more farm products; the deal includes no enforcement mechanism. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the recent American Farm Bureau Federation convention that upcoming trade deals would make further payments unnecessary; on Monday the government released final tranche of 2019 payments to compensate farmers for lower prices due to the trade war, McCrimmon reports.