See more of the story

– A day after China said it would stop buying food from American farmers, the top U.S. agriculture official said “the ball is in China’s court” to end the yearlong trade war.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, appearing at the Farmfest show in south-central Minnesota on Wednesday, said hard-liners in China this spring disrupted negotiations that would have ended the dispute, which has cost farms in the Midwest more than most other American businesses.

“President Trump would love to have trade resolution,” Perdue said. “But you can’t deal with a nation, the No. 2 world economy, that cheats and steals and builds its economy, its military and its desire for world dominance over cybertheft and intellectual property transfers.”

President Donald Trump said last Thursday that China had not fulfilled a promise to buy large volumes of U.S. farm products and vowed to impose new tariffs on around $300 billion of Chinese goods, abruptly dimming prospects of a trade deal.

China’s Commerce Ministry responded on Tuesday, saying it will stop buying U.S. agricultural products.

Perdue said there had been “great progress” in negotiations until April, when “hard-liners in China got ahold of President Xi, and they backtracked on several commitments regarding agricultural purchases.”

Since then, it appears trade talks have moved backward.

“We were about 90% there to a deal and for some reason they changed their mind, and they’re having a big [conclave] this month in China,” Perdue said, referring to a somewhat secretive, two-week gathering of Communist Party leaders in the coastal resort of Beidaihe.

“Hope they get sorted out and decide to come to the table and be reasonable, reciprocal fair free traders,” he said.

Perdue and six members of Congress — Reps. Collin Peterson, Angie Craig, Jim Hagedorn, Pete Stauber and Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Ted Yoho of Florida — gathered for a “listening session” attended by about 400 people in a breezy barn at the show.

Farmers posed many questions to the panel, representing concerns ranging from the SNAP program to assistance to dairy farmers, ethanol mandates and staffing at Farm Service Agency offices.

In a scrum with reporters just after that discussion, trade was again the dominant topic.

“My goal would be to have China play fair,” Perdue said. “Not to dig up corn seeds in Iowa and try to reverse-engineer the patented technology, rice seeds in Louisiana as well as military secrets and corporate secrets.”

Trump has signaled he’d be willing to extend the bailout to farmers — the price tag is already up to $23 billion — for an additional year. Perdue gave no timeline on negotiations with China.

“It needs to end when it’s resolved,” he said.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 • Twitter: @adambelz