Chinese importers made a rare move these days and ordered up their largest United States corn purchase since October 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service said March 22, a rare sale of the grain in the middle of the U.S.-China trade war.

FAS said in a report that private exporters sold 300,000 tonnes of the grain for shipment in the 2018-19 marketing year, which ends on Aug. 31.

The grain will be shipped from April to July, two traders told Reuters.

The purchase by China is considered a big win for U.S. corn growers since the Trump administration levied tariffs on Chinese products, forcing China to go into a trade war on U.S. goods. While China is the world’s largest hog producer, it is not a notable grain importer. Prior to the announcement, China had committed to buying just 166,328 tonnes of U.S. corn for the 2018-19 marketing year.

The announcement is China’s largest U.S. corn buy since a 3.6 million tonne purchase in October 2013, according to FAS.

In a television interview March 22, President Donald Trump said negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen,” adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imports for some time did not mean talks were in trouble.

Trump said earlier in the week he would maintain tariffs on Chinese imports even if he strikes a trade deal with Beijing to make sure China complies with any potential agreement.

“We’re not talking about removing them,” Trump said at the White House. “We’re talking about leaving them for a substantial period of time because we have to make sure that if we do the deal with China, that China lives by the deal.

“They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals and we have to make sure.”

Trump’s comments come days before U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin were to travel to China for another round of trade talks with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in hopes of finalizing a tentative deal, according to The Hill.

The Trump administration wants China to increase purchases of U.S. crops, halt alleged theft and forced transfers of American intellectual property and expand foreign access to its financial markets.

Trump has imposed 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports and a 10 percent tax on $200 billion in goods from the country to increase leverage over Beijing in trade talks. China wants both tariffs removed while Trump hasn’t said whether he’d keep both sets or just one of them.

“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money and for a period of time that will stay,” Trump said of the tariffs on Chinese goods, which are paid by importers but critics say add to prices when sold in the United States. Trump has repeatedly said an agreement would be finalized “soon.”

“The deal is coming along nicely,” Trump said. “We’re getting along with China very well. (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) is a friend of mine.”

It’s unclear how close the U.S. and China truly are to striking a deal, and some of Trump’s top aides have warned lawmakers that holding Beijing to the pact could be lengthy and difficult.

“We might be able to have an agreement that helps us turn the corner in our economic relationship with China,” Lighthizer said in February.

But he warned that “there’s not going to be one negotiation” that fixes the U.S.-China trade dustup.

Asked at a meeting with reporters March 22 about possible imposition of tariffs on cars from the European Union, Trump said, “It’s up for review, and the European Union has been very tough on the United States for many years but nobody talked about it. And so we’re looking at something to combat it.”

“Not only do they charge our companies—if you look, it was 1.6 billion to Google; it just happened yesterday. And a lot of other things. A lot of litigation. But I say the European Union has been as tough on the United States as China, just not as much money involved.

“We’ll see what happens. We’ll see whether or not they negotiate a deal. If they negotiate a deal, a fair deal, that’s a different story,” Trump said.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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