Mnuchin surprises Trump by saying US scrapped Chinese farm tours

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinGOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law On The Money: Deficit spikes 25 percent through January | Mnuchin declines to say why Trump pulled Treasury nominee who oversaw Roger Stone case | Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law MORE on Monday said that a Chinese delegation canceled visits to U.S. farm communities last week at the administration's request, a comment that caught President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record MORE by surprise.

Trump was asked during a bilateral meeting with the Egyptian president about the cancellation and what he thought it meant for trade talks with Beijing. The president deferred to Mnuchin, who downplayed the significance of the move. 

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"That was actually at our request they delayed that," Mnuchin said. "We didn’t want there to be any confusion. They have started buying agriculture. They're going to reschedule that at a different time. The timing didn’t work, but that was our request."

"Why was that at our request, just out of curiosity?" Trump said.

"We didn’t want confusion," Mnuchin responded.

"Yeah, but I want them to buy farm products," Trump interjected.

Mnuchin then clarified that China has committed to buy U.S. agricultural products as part of ongoing negotiations.

Chinese representatives last Friday scrapped plans to visit farms this week in Bozeman, Mont., and Omaha, Neb. The trip was intended to foster goodwill between the countries as they seek a deal to end the ongoing trade war, but the cancelation dampened optimism about the prospect of ongoing talks.

The trade war between the U.S. and China has had a disproportionate effect on American farmers, with products such as soybeans, pork and other agricultural products among the top exports to China, and Beijing has targeted those areas with retaliatory tariffs.

High-level Chinese officials are expected to meet with U.S. representatives next week as the two sides seek to get negotiations back on track.