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GRAINS-Soybeans slip as U.S.-China trade war bites

Gus Trompiz and Naveen Thukral

* China's soybean imports register first annual drop since 2011

* Weaker than expected Chinese trade data rattles investors

* Soybean losses limited by weather worries in South America

* Corn and wheat also ease

(Updates with European trading, changes byline/dateline) PARIS/SINGAPORE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Chicago soybean futures eased on Monday after Chinese trade data showed annual imports of the oilseed by the world's biggest buyer had dropped for the first time since 2011, highlighting the effects of a tariff war between Washington and Beijing. Corn and wheat also edged down as the trade figures dampened demand sentiment and fueled concerns across financial markets about an economic slowdown in China and beyond. Losses in grain futures were limited, however, by concerns about adverse growing weather for corn and soybeans in South America, as well as continuing hopes of fresh Chinese purchases during a 90-day truce for negotiations. The most-active soybean contract on the Chicago Board Of Trade was down 0.7 percent at $9.04-1/4 a bushel by 1258 GMT. CBOT wheat was down 0.8 percent at $5.15-1/2 a bushel while corn had inched down 0.1 percent to $3.77-3/4 a bushel. China's 2018 soybean imports fell by 7.9 percent from a year earlier to 88.03 million tonnes, the General Administration of Customs said on Monday. That was the first annual drop since 2011, Reuters records show.

After Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans dried up completely in November because of retaliatory tariffs, China resumed purchases of U.S. supplies last month after a Dec. 1 truce agreed by the world's two largest economies. Chinese buyers have booked an estimated 5 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans over the past month, but no further deals have been reported, with uncertainty increased by the absence of U.S. export sales data during a partial government shutdown. "In the coming months, only those quantities China promised to buy as part of the early December 'truce' are likely to be exported from the U.S. to China," Commerzbank analysts said in a note. "For as long as the punitive tariff remains in force, regular imports from the U.S. will continue to be too expensive for Chinese customers." U.S. officials expect China's top trade negotiator to visit Washington this month, signaling higher-level discussions are likely to follow last week's talks in Beijing. Drought in Brazil and heavy rain in Argentina were lending background support to soybean and corn markets. Agricultural consultancy Safras & Mercado on Friday cut its forecast for Brazil's 2018/19 soybean crop by 6.5 million tonnes to 115.72 million tonnes.

In Argentina, about 2 million of the 17.8 million hectares planted with soy have been damaged by heavy rains related to the El Nino weather phenomenon, Argentina's two main grains exchanges told Reuters. Expectations that dwindling supplies in Russia would create export demand for U.S. wheat had helped to push Chicago prices higher on Friday. However, export hopes were tempered on Monday by confirmation of the Russian agriculture ministry's outlook for 2018/19 grain shipments.

Prices at 1258 GMT

Last Change Pct End Ytd PctMove 2018 MoveCBOT wheat 515.50 -4.00 -0.77 503.25 2.43CBOT corn 377.75 -0.50 -0.13 375.00 0.73CBOT soy 904.25 -6.00 -0.66 895.00 1.03Paris wheat Mar 203.75 -1.00 -0.49 203.25 0.25Paris maize Mar 180.00 -0.50 -0.28 180.25 -0.14Paris rape Feb 367.25 -1.25 -0.34 364.50 0.75WTI crude oil 51.12 -0.47 -0.91 45.41 12.57Euro/dlr 1.15 0.00 -0.03 1.1469 -0.05

Most active contracts - Wheat, corn and soy US cents/bushel, Paris futures in euros per tonne

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Naveen Thukral in Singapore Editing by Rashmi Aich and David Goodman)