FARGO — President Donald Trump’s signing Wednesday, Jan. 15, of the Phase One trade agreement with China will benefit North Dakota soybean farmers, said Nancy Johnson, the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association's executive director.

Trump and China Vice Premier Liu He signed the agreement Jan. 15 at the White House. The agreement includes ramping up purchases of agricultural products from the United States. Under the agreement, China has agreed to buy $40 billion to $50 billion worth of agricultural commodities.

“Our growers are very pleased Phase One has been signed,” Johnson said.

China was a major importer of U.S. soybeans before a trade war between the two counties escalated. The North Dakota Soybean Growers Association hopes that the signing of the agreement is a sign that the trade war is de-escalating, according to Johnson.

“That’s been a big export destination,” Johnson said.

U.S. soybean exports to China fell from $14.2 billion in 2016 to $3.1 billion in 2018, according to the North Dakota Farmers Union. Meanwhile, total U.S. agricultural exports to China declined from $21.4 billion to $9.2 billion during that time period, NDFU reported.

During the past year, swine fever also has been rampant in China, and agricultural marketing experts have said that also has contributed to the decline in soybean exports.

The North Dakota Soybean Growers Association hopes that the agreement is a sign the trade war is de-escalating, Johnson said.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the Phase One trade deal.

“Until vessels carrying U.S. agricultural products are landing in Chinese ports, I’m going to be holding my breath a bit,” Watne said in a prepared statement, noting that China bought 800,000 tons of soybeans from Brazil last week. Enforcement of the Phase One agreement will be key to its success, and the U.S. will need to mend fences with other countries so they can assist in holding China’s “feet to the fire,” he said.

Minnesota state Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said the agreement is key to the recovery of soybean export sales lost during the trade war.

“This is really important that there has been an agreement made. It’s been devastating for our soybeans,” said Kiel , a farmer and member of the Minnesota House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Committee.

Kiel was on hand for the Wednesday signing at the White House, along with Minnesota state Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, vice chair of the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee, and Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, chair of the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., called the signing of the agreement “very important to our farmers and ranchers.”

“We’ve repeatedly made the case to the administration about the importance of securing ag purchases as part of any agreement with China because we need to recapture the Chinese market for crops like soybeans, as well as expand it for products like beef,” Hoeven said in a prepared statement.

The Phase One Agreement, which commits China to purchasing a total of $200 billion worth of American products during the next two years and also pledges to stop intellectual property and currency manipulation is a major victory for the U.S. and North Dakota, said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.