United States Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said yesterday that mainland officials had offered assurances that tariff rate quotas and other rules would let US farmers keep trading soya beans and other products despite earlier Chinese protests and a series of tough negotiations. Ms Veneman had led a five-person delegation on a three-day visit to meet mainland officials, including some from the Ministry of Agriculture. Even though in the spring the two nations cited more disputes than agreements, Ms Veneman told a press conference yesterday at the end of the meetings that she trusted an agreement was on the way. Mainland and US officials have been locked in a dispute about imports of genetically modified US soya beans, which last year topped mainland soya production and might have an impact on China's burgeoning biotechnology industry. Soya exports are worth US$1 billion a year and exceed the value of any other US farm export to China, according to the American Soyabean Association. US officials have accused China of not making its import rules clear, and Chinese officials have feared that World Trade Organisation bylaws would force China to receive a flood of cheap US soya imports, 70 per cent of which are genetically modified. China, which sponsors biotechnology research on its own farm products, also has raised health concerns about genetically modified exports from the US. Since March 20, the two countries have lived by an interim agreement that lets US farmers export with few hindrances. The two sides during this week's visit talked about the impact of China's forthcoming rules and mutual concerns about excessive government subsidies for corn and cotton. Next week some members of the US delegation might meet again with mainland officials to work out details, Ms Veneman said. Joseph Jen, US Department of Agriculture undersecretary for research, economics and education, was likely to take part. 'We are very pleased. It's a start to what we hope will be a more substantial dialogue between the two countries,' Ms Veneman said. The countries aim to sign a formal deal on December 21.