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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Escalating tensions between the United States and China have triggered a flurry of U.S. soybean purchases by European buyers, in one of the first signs that trade tariff threats lobbed between the world’s top two economies are disrupting global commodity trade flows.

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FILE PHOTO: Soybeans being sorted according to their weight and density on a gravity sorter machine at Peterson Farms Seed facility in Fargo, North Dakota, U.S., December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Dan Koeck/File Photo

News of the sales, confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday, helped to underpin benchmark Chicago Board of Trade soybean prices <0#S:> after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to slap tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese goods.

The USDA said 458,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans were sold to undisclosed destinations, which traders and grains analysts said included EU soybean processors such as the Netherlands and Germany.

If the entire volume is confirmed to be going to the European Union, it would be the largest one-off sale to the bloc in more than 15 years, according to USDA data. The USDA could not immediately be reached for comment.

“We’re seeing a realignment of trade,” largely because the politics is driving up Brazilian soybean prices, said Jack Scoville, analyst with the Price Futures Group.

Traders and analysts said the unusual trade flows were likely to continue in the near term, benefiting U.S. Gulf Coast shippers and likely hurting exporters in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the No. 2 bulk grain outlet that relies heavily on Chinese demand.

Trade tensions between Washington and Beijing have rattled markets over the past week. Soybean prices tumbled by as much as 5 percent after China threatened to levy extra duties on U.S. shipments, though the market ultimately ended the week

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