December 12, 2018 / 12:25 AM / a month ago

Exclusive: Trump says China 'back in the market' for U.S. soybeans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that China was buying a “tremendous amount” of U.S. soybeans and that trade talks with Beijing were already under way by telephone, with more meetings likely among U.S. and Chinese officials.

FILE PHOTO: A man displays imported soybeans at a port in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Trump told Reuters in an interview that the Chinese government was “back in the market” to buy soybeans after a Dec. 1 truce in the U.S.-China trade war.

But traders in Chicago said they have seen no evidence of a resumption of such purchases following China’s imposition of a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in July.

“I just heard today that they’re buying tremendous amounts of soybeans. They are starting, just starting now,” Trump said in the interview.

Trump also said he believes China will soon cut tariffs on U.S. autos to 15 percent from the current 40 percent level.

“I think they’re looking to do it immediately, very quickly,” he said.

A Trump administration official earlier told Reuters that China’s plan to cut car tariffs was outlined in a phone call between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

SOYBEAN SALES AWAITED

U.S. government data has not shown any soybean sales to China since July, when Beijing imposed tariffs on U.S. supplies of the oilseed in retaliation for U.S. duties on Chinese goods.

Traders have been watching closely for signs of confirmation of a resumption of Chinese buying of U.S. soybeans, particularly after Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that “very productive conversations” were going on with China. “Watch for some important announcements!” he added.

Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures edged higher on Tuesday on hopes that new deals would be signed soon, but there were no signs of increased activity in the cash markets, traders said.

U.S. Agriculture Department rules require exporters to promptly report sales of 100,000 tonnes or more of a commodity made in a single day.

China last year purchased about 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports in deals valued at more than $12 billion. With those exports gone, soybean prices had tumbled to their lowest in a decade, heaping pain on U.S. farmers, a key Trump constituency.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping called a temporary truce in their trade war on Dec. 1. Trump agreed to postpone for 90 days a Jan. 1 increase in tariffs on Chinese goods while the two sides negotiated over increased Chinese purchases of American farm and energy commodities, an end to forced technology transfers and stronger protections for U.S. intellectual property in China.

Trump said on Tuesday that those negotiations were already taking place by telephone.

“We’ll probably have another meeting. And maybe a meeting of the top people on both sides,” Trump said. “If it’s necessary, I’ll have another meeting with President Xi, who I like a lot and get along with very well.”

Trump did not offer any timetable for further face-to-face meetings among U.S. and Chinese officials.

He said he would wait to increase tariffs on Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent until it becomes apparent whether the United States and China can make a deal.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler

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