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UPDATE: China's embassy said on Friday that the delegation cancelled its planned visit and returned to China earlier than expected.
After trade talks with Chinese negotiators wrap in Washington this week, a small group of those officials are planning a trip to farm country to meet face to face with the producers whose finances have been deteriorating as the trade war drags on.
The delegation, led by Vice Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Han Jun, is currently planning follow-on visits to Bozeman, Montana, and Omaha, Nebraska, according to two people with knowledge of the visits. The Montana Farm Bureau on Thursday confirmed a Chinese delegation would be visiting with farmers in the state early next week.
The visit could bring a welcome salve to farmers caught in the crosshairs of the trade war if it results in a reopening of the market. In response to escalating U.S. tariffs, China has placed tariffs on and halted state purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
"It's encouraging to see progress in the negotiations between the U.S. and China," said Montana farmer Michelle Erickson-Jones. "It is also very encouraging to see that we expect a delegation from the Chinese negotiating team to visit Montana. We have been suffering increased costs and a loss of a key export market since we first enacted tariffs and faced retaliatory tariffs in 2018."
She noted that wheat farmers in Montana saw sales to China drop to almost nothing since March 2018. That compares with $65 million annually between 2012 and 2017 in Montana alone.
"It was a market we wanted to see expand, not disappear," she said.
In lieu of a trade deal, The U.S. Department of Agriculture has rolled out a second tranche of aid for farmers facing an absence of customers. In total, the USDA has authorized $28 billion in aid to help affected farmers.
"I think it's very clear that our farmers this year, when these talks with China did not proceed as we had hoped, again continued to be affected by tariff damages," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters when the latest program was announced in July. "I think it's entirely justifiable."
Perdue said at that time that President Donald Trump was insisting China purchase agricultural products "as a way to unfreeze our discussions [with Beijing]."
On Thursday Perdue confirmed CNBC's reporting that Chinese officials would be touring U.S. farms next week and said he was hopeful the trip would usher in new purchase agreements, as past visits by Vice Premier Liu He had.
"We hope that these purchases - or agreements - or these talks this coming week can really be fruitful and give momentum… into further discussion of a trade resolution."
In June, Trump said China would be buying "massive amounts" of U.S. farm products as a result of a bilateral meeting between himself and China's Xi Jinping. So far, those purchases have not materialized. People briefed on the bilateral meeting say China said it would "consider" purchasing farm products but made no concrete commitment.
Correction: Han Jun is China's vice minister for agriculture and rural affairs. An earlier version misidentified the official.