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Wheat field at dawn Albert Yarullin/ThinkstockPhotos

China may buy up to 7 million tons of U.S. wheat

The proposed purchases come as Chinese officials negotiate a trade deal with the U.S.

by Bloomberg News

Chinese officials are considering purchasing as much as 7 million tons of U.S. wheat depending on the progress of trade talks, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

China may buy a small amount initially and increase purchases if talks go well, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is confidential. Final volumes are subject to change depending on how the trade talks progress, and would be for state reserves, they said. It could buy anything from 3 million to 7 million tons of American wheat, one of the people said.

The wheat purchases, together with other farm products including American soybeans and corn, come as Chinese officials negotiate a deal with the U.S. to reduce its trade surplus which last year stood at $323 billion. China has offered to go on a six-year buying spree to ramp up imports from the U.S. in a move that would reconfigure the relationship between the world’s two largest economies, officials familiar with the negotiations said last week.

Larry Kudlow, head of the National Economic Council and President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, said the scope of U.S. trade talks with Beijing is broader and deeper than ever before but a final outcome would ultimately depend on verification of Chinese commitments. “Promises are great but enforcement is what we want -- things like deadlines and timetables and full coverage of the various structural issues,” he said in an interview with CNBC Tuesday.

China’s 25 percent retaliatory tariffs that were imposed last year on American agricultural products, including soy, corn, wheat, and beef, struck at Trump’s heartland voters. American farmers were roiled as agriculture shipments to the world’s biggest buyer of commodities plunged, stockpiles accrued across the U.S., and futures dropped.

Bullish Sign?

Nobody replied to a fax sent to China’s commerce ministry. On Tuesday, Chicago wheat futures rose as much as 1.6 percent to the highest price since Dec. 20.

While speculation of Chinese buying may be a supportive factor in the market, traders are waiting for confirmation of sales and timing, said Mark Schultz, chief market analyst for Northstar Commodity Investment Co. in Minneapolis.

“It all sounds good but it has to become reality,” Schultz said by telephone. Futures are likely getting more support because importers see U.S. wheat as attractive given its low price compared to other exporters, he said.

Last week, the sentiment among wheat traders turned bearish on the outlook for the grain for the first time in five weeks. Still, as trade negotiations continue between the two nations, signs are emerging that buyers are willing to dip back into trading with the U.S. again.

American farm cooperative CHS sold U.S. wheat to a private Chinese buyer earlier this month, according to people familiar with the matter. Still, a large-scale resumption of U.S. wheat purchases for state reserves would be a first for China in years. Commercial firms have stopped purchases from the U.S. since June due to the tariffs.

--With assistance from Shruti Date Singh.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Steven Yang in Beijing at kyang74@bloomberg.net; Niu Shuping in Beijing at nshuping@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Kitanaka at akitanaka@bloomberg.net Andrew Hobbs

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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