USDA on Friday reported an export sale of 544,000 metric tons of soybeans to China, just a day before President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet with the aim of ending the two countries’ trade war.

The announcement marked the first Chinese purchase of more than 500,000 tons since trade talks between the two countries fell apart in early May, when U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced that China had backtracked on agreements that had already been struck.

About two weeks ago China agreed to buy 130,000 tons of U.S. soybeans, but that was well short of the purchases China had been making before the talks broke down. USDA announced export sales of 816,000 tons to China on March 29 and 828,000 tons on Apr. 1.

U.S. soybean exports to China virtually halted last year after the Chinese hit them with a 25 percent tariff. The U.S. exported $3.1 billion worth of soybeans to Chinese importers in the 2018 calendar year, about a quarter of the $12.3 billion it sold to them in 2017, according to USDA data.

But sales to China in 2019 were buoyed after China began pledging last December to make purchases as goodwill gestures during negotiations that appeared to be going well up until May.

In May Lighthizer accused China of reneging on deals, raised the rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and started the process of hitting $300 billion more of China’s exports with new tariffs.

Trump, who was scheduled to meet with Xi on Saturday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, last week raised expectations for the meeting when he said he had spoken to Xi on the telephone and then stressed that, “China very much wants to discuss the future and so do we … I think China wants to make a deal. They don't like the tariffs.”

But speaking to reporters Friday in Osaka, Trump said he had made no assurances to Xi that he won’t levy new tariffs and was noncommittal on prospects for a deal or even the resumption of bilateral talks.

“I think it’ll be productive,” Trump said Friday. “And who knows?  But I think it’ll productive.  At a minimum, it will be productive.  We’ll see what happens and what comes out of it.” 

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