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China buys at least four U.S. soybean cargoes, seeking more - traders

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chinese importers bought at least four cargoes, or about 240,000 tonnes, of U.S. soybeans on Monday for shipment beginning in July, two traders familiar with the deals said.

More sales are possible as a Chinese state owned firm had sought offers for up to 20 cargoes shipped from July to November from terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast or the Pacific Northwest, the traders said.

The purchases are the latest in a recent string of buying by China, which vowed to dramatically increase U.S. agricultural imports as part of a Phase 1 trade deal Beijing signed with the United States in January.

Soybean prices plummeted late last month to the lowest in nearly a year as the coronavirus pandemic has upended food supply chains and dragged down demand for feed and fuel.

China, the world's largest soybean importer, has been relying heavily on cheaper, newly harvested South American soybeans in recent months. A strong U.S. dollar .DXY and an historically weak Brazilian real has further encouraged buying from South America.

Monday’s U.S. soy purchases follow a series of U.S. farm commodities deals signed by Chinese importers since late April.

China plans to buy more than 30 million tonnes of U.S. crops, including 10 million tonnes of soybeans, for state stockpiles in part to help protect itself from supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, sources told Reuters last month.

Sales to China so far in 2020 now total more than 3 million tonnes, but that is well short of the nearly 10 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans booked by China in the same time last year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

As part of the Phase 1 trade deal, China vowed to increase purchases of U.S. farm goods by at least $12.5 billion in 2020 and $19.5 billion in 2021, over the 2017 level of $24 billion. Soybeans, the most valuable U.S. agricultural export, are expected to represent a significant share of that.

Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy