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GRAINS-Crop prices crawl higher on U.S-China trade hopes

Tom Polansek

* Soybeans inch up as U.S.-China trade optimism persists

* Corn also firm amid talk of proposed Chinese imports

* Traders digest USDA export sales data (New throughout, updates prices, market activity and comments; new byline, changes dateline, previously PARIS)

CHICAGO, Feb 22 (Reuters) - U.S. grain and soy futures edged higher on Friday as traders waited for signs that Washington and Beijing were making progress toward a trade agreement that could boost Chinese imports of U.S. crops.

U.S. President Donald Trump was set to meet Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office on Friday, a day after top trade negotiators from both sides haggled over details of a set of agreements aimed at ending their trade war.

U.S. farmers hope the talks will bring China back to the United States to buy more agricultural products, after Beijing last year imposed tariffs on imports of American farm goods including soybeans, sorghum and pork. However, traders were reluctant to push prices too far in either direction without additional details about the status of the negotiations.

"The feeling is, 'Lets walk away and see what happens with the administration and the U.S.-China talks,"' said Karl Setzer, operations manager in Michigan for Citizens LLC, a U.S. grain elevator company.

The nearby soybean contract on the Chicago Board of Trade was up 1-3/4 cents at $9.12-3/4 a bushel by 11:25 a.m. CST (1725 GMT). CBOT corn was up 1 cent at $3.76-1/2 and CBOT wheat was 1 cent higher at $4.87-1/2.

Stakes are higher for farmers in the trade negotiations because China is the world's largest soy importer and a major buyer of other good such as grain sorghum.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects the value of U.S. farm exports to drop by $1.9 billion to $141.5 billion in fiscal 2019, versus 2018, led by a steep decline in shipments to China.

"The trade continues to be optimistic that there will be some positive news out of the trade talks between the U.S. and China in Washington," said Tomm Pfitzenmaier, analyst for Summit Commodity Brokerage in Iowa.

The USDA reported on Friday that soy export sales for the six weeks ended Feb. 22 totalled 6.91 million tonnes. Analysts had expected 6.1 million to 9.6 million tonnes.

U.S. corn export sales during the period were 6.086 million tonnes, within analysts forecasts for 4 million to 7.25 million tonnes. But wheat export sales reached 3.819 million tonnes, topping estimates for 2 million to 3.3 million tonnes. (Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris, Naveen Thukral in Singapore and PJ Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Rashmi Aich, Kirsten Donovan and David Gregorio)