(Recasts; updates prices, adds quotes, changes byline, changes dateline; previous LONDON) CHICAGO, Dec 23 (Reuters) - U.S. soybean futures touched a six-week high on Monday on optimism that China would ramp up purchases of U.S. soy following this month's announcement of a "Phase 1" trade deal, analysts said. Corn futures firmed, following strength in soybeans, while wheat turned lower in thin technical trade ahead of this week's Christmas holiday. Chicago Board of Trade most-active March soybean futures settled up 4 cents at $9.42-1/4 per bushel after reaching $9.46-3/4, the contract's highest since Nov. 8. CBOT March corn ended up 1 cent at $3.88-3/4 a bushel while March wheat finished down 2-3/4 cents at $5.39-1/2 a bushel. Soybeans rose after China's finance ministry said it will lower tariffs on products ranging from frozen pork and avocado to certain semiconductors next year as Beijing looks to boost imports amid a slowing economy and a trade war with the United States. President Donald Trump on Saturday said the United States and China would "very shortly" sign their so-called Phase 1 trade pact. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said private exporters sold 126,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans to China for delivery in the 2019/20 marketing year that began Sept. 1. China's top agriculture consultancy said last week the country will make good on a pledge to buy more than $40 billion of American farm goods. "January soybeans continue to trade in positive territory on hopes that China will save the day for the oilseed with the new phase-one trade deal to be signed next month," INTL FCStone chief commodities economist Arlan Suderman wrote in a client note. "Fund managers hold out hopes that China will make massive purchases of U.S. soybeans, despite sluggish demand due to African swine fever," Suderman said, referring to a deadly disease that has ravaged China's hog herd. Expectations of a huge Brazilian soybean crop hung over the market, capping the rally. Wheat futures turned lower despite supportive U.S. export data. The USDA reported export inspections of U.S. wheat in the latest week <W-INSP-TOT> at 578,458 tonnes, near the high end of trade expectations and the largest weekly total since August.
Export inspections for corn, at 387,188 tonnes, fell below a range of trade expectations. The CBOT will close early on Tuesday, at 12:05 p.m. CST (1805 GMT), and remain closed for the Christmas holiday on Wednesday, with trade resuming on Thursday.
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NOTE: CBOT March wheat, corn and soybeans shown in cents per bushel, March soymeal in dollars per short ton and soyoil in cents per pound.
(Additional reporting by Nigel Hunt and Emily Chow; Editing by Rashmi Aich, Mark Potter and Dan Grebler)