March 4, 2020 / 5:46 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. agriculture chief expects China to buy U.S. soy in late spring, summer

(Adds details, background)

CHICAGO, March 4 (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday predicted China will come into the U.S. market for soybeans in late spring and summer, after Beijing in January promised to buy more American farm goods as part of an interim trade deal.

Major Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products have not yet been seen, increasing doubts among traders and farmers that Beijing will follow through on its pledges.

Soybeans made up more than half of China’s U.S. agricultural purchases in 2017 before the countries’ trade war erupted and are expected to be a key part of any increased purchases.

“This time of year they buy soybeans from Brazil. We think they’ll come into this market in late spring and summer and fulfill the commitments,” Perdue said in testimony before Congress.

China, in the initial deal signed on Jan. 15, promised to buy at least an additional $12.5 billion worth of U.S. farm products in 2020 and at least $19.5 billion in 2021 over the 2017 level of $24 billion.

But an outbreak of a fatal pig disease, African swine fever, has reduced China’s demand for soy used to feed hogs. The spread of the new coronavirus is also threatening China’s economic growth.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that the United States may give American farmers additional money until trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada and other countries fully go into effect. The Trump administration set aside a $16 billion aid package to farmers in 2019, and $12 billion a year earlier.

“I’m telling farmers, let’s plant for the market, hope and pray for the trade to come back, as we think it will,” Perdue said.

China said last month it would grant exemptions on retaliatory duties against U.S. goods, including soybeans, that were imposed during the trade war. (Reporting by Tom Polansek, Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao)

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