The telephone talks between U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators went well last week, potentially leading to an in-person meeting next week and an increase in Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans, according to Chinese and U.S. sources.

President Donald Trump, speaking Friday about the call between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and their Chinese counterparts, said: “They had a very good talk. We'll see what happens.”

Mnuchin had said earlier that if the call last week went well, it could lead to an in-person meeting and Chinese officials are suggesting that’s likely.

“Briefing of the Chinese side on phone talks between Chinese and US trade officials shows face-to-face consultation will not be far away,” Hu Xijin, head of the Chinese state-run Global Times, said in a tweet. “I think we can expect that some actions may happen, which would be seen as goodwill from each other.”

That good will, on the Chinese side, may come in the form of more imports of U.S. soybeans, he said: “Based on what I know, Chinese importers have started arrangement of purchasing U.S. agricultural products.”

A spokesperson for the Office of the USTR declined to comment.

Xinhua News, another state-run operation in China, revealed Sunday that China has given the green light to private importers to apply to have tariffs lifted so they can import U.S. soybeans.

A U.S. industry source tells Agri-Pulse that three private Chinese companies have been quietly assured by the government that they will get a tariff exemption.

China’s Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council “will organize experts to evaluate the applications,” according to Xinhua, which also stressed that the imports would happen only if there is enough demand.

“In order to meet the needs of Chinese consumers, Chinese enterprises are willing to continue importing certain agricultural products from the United States that are marketable in China,” the government-run outlet said.

Agri-Pulse spoke to American officials in talks with one of the three private Chinese companies, and it’s unclear if the purchases will take place even with the tariff exemptions in place.

“They took a look and said the price for U.S. soy was still not competitive,” one of the U.S. sources said on condition of anonymity. “Not sure if price was the issue or if it was more about the ongoing uncertainty about the overall trade situation. Nobody wants to be caught on the wrong side of another twist or turn on the trade front.”

Sara Wyant contributed to this story.

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