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FILE PHOTO: A label shows the origin of frozen pork that was imported from the U.S. at the Beijing barbeque restaurant Home Plate that specializes in U.S. meat, China, June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File PhotoThomas Peter/Reuters

China made its biggest purchases of U.S. pork in seven weeks last week as Beijing said Chinese companies suspended purchases of American agricultural products, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data issued on Thursday.

The world’s largest pork consumer bought 10,211 tonnes of U.S. pork between Aug. 2-8 for shipment in 2019 as a highly contagious swine disease continued to ravage the Chinese hog herd.

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Aug. 5 that Chinese companies stopped buying U.S. farm products in the latest escalation of the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

It was not clear if the purchases were made in the days before Aug. 5 or after.

The sales are a sign that China needs meat from the U.S. to offset the deaths of millions of pigs in an outbreak of African swine fever, analysts said.

“It was a new booking, which is positive,” said Steve Meyer, economist for U.S. commodity firm Kerns and Associates.

China last year imposed retaliatory tariffs that remain in place on imports of U.S. farm products in the trade row, including duties of 62 per cent on American pork.

The tariffs have slashed exports of U.S. crops including soybeans and sorghum and prompted the Trump administration to compensate American farmers for losses over two years with as much as $28 billion.

U.S. President Donald Trump this week backed off part of a plan for 10 per cent tariffs on effectively all remaining Chinese imports beginning Sept. 1. China on Thursday vowed to counter the latest U.S. tariffs.

Although China has not made any new purchases of grain since suspending buying earlier this month, grain and soybeans bought before trade tensions escalated have continued to be loaded on boats and shipped to China.

The USDA confirmed that a China-bound shipment containing 53,788 tonnes of U.S. sorghum previously sold to an undisclosed buyer was loaded on the vessel Nord Summit at the Texas Gulf last week.

Another 25,000 tonnes of the grain sold to China in late July for shipment in September or later was rolled to the current marketing year, indicating that it would load and ship this month.

U.S. exporters also shipped 599,342 tonnes of previously purchased soybeans to China in the week ended Aug. 8 in the largest week of shipments since late February, according to USDA data.

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