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US-China trade war: We’re in the final throes of a very important deal, says Trump

Bloomberg Washington | Updated on November 27, 2019 Published on November 27, 2019

US President Donald Trump (File Photo)   -  REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed core concerns.

US President Donald Trump declared on Tuesday that talks with China on the first phase of a trade deal were near completion, after negotiators from both sides spoke by phone, signalling progress on an accord in the works for nearly two years.

“We’re in the final throes of a very important deal,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It’s going very well.”

The President said later on Tuesday in an interview with former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that he is holding up the trade deal to ensure better terms for the US. “I’m holding it up because its got to be a good deal,” he said in the interview for O’Reilly’s website. “We can’t make a deal that’s like, even. We have to make a deal where we do much better, because we have to catch up.”

Trump announced on October 11 that he had reached the outlines of a substantial but partial deal that would see China ramp up purchases of US farm goods, make new commitments to protect US intellectual property, refrain from manipulating its currency and further open its financial sector to foreign investors. Since then, the two sides have been wrangling over how to put the deal on paper and what tariffs the US will drop in exchange.

The negotiations have been complicated by strong support in the US for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong and Chinas suspicions that the US is feeding unrest in the territory. Trump said on Tuesday that the US wanted to see things go well in Hong Kong but added that he was confident of a good outcome. “Chinese President Xi Jinping can make that happen,” he said. “I know him and I know he’d like to make it happen.”

Trump gave no indication about whether he would sign legislation Congress passed last week backing the protest movement in Hong Kong. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned of strong countermeasures in response to the measure.

Trumps comments came after officials on both sides signalled talks were back on track toward an interim deal after negotiators from the worlds two largest economies spoke by telephone.

Negotiations on

“Negotiators are getting really close to completing the first phase,” White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News on Tuesday. She told reporters that the sides continue to negotiate sticking points including forced technology transfer and alleged theft of intellectual property, adding that things like this take awhile.

In a statement, China’s Ministry of Commerce said that officials reached consensus on properly resolving relevant issues and agreed to stay in contact on the remaining points in Phase-1. The US Trade Representatives office confirmed a conversation took place, but declined to comment on the contents.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed core concerns, according to Chinas statement, which did not provide further details.

As the Phase-1 talks progress through the final stages, people familiar with the details have said the contours will include US assurances of no additional tariffs and the roll back of existing ones — a key Chinese demand. The American side wants Beijing’s pledge of billions in purchases of US commodities — a deliverable Trump wants for his rural base.

A date and place to sign the deal still has not been decided.

Stocks in Asia gained and US equities touched new highs on optimism that the countries wont escalate a tariff war that’s dragged on for 20 months and involves about $500 billion in products traded between them.

Deadline looming

Talks on the limited deal have continued since it was first announced in October, with both sides making concessions recently on issues such as food imports, intellectual property and tech giant Huawei Technologies Co Liu, China’s chief negotiator, said last week that he was cautiously optimistic about concluding a phase one deal, but the lack of a deadline and comments from Trump and others have led to speculation that talks could extend into next year.

If a Phase-1 deal does not materialise before December 15, Trump will have to choose whether to carry out his previous threat to impose 15 per cent tariffs on some $160 billion in imports from China. He said last week that a trade deal with China can not be like an even-deal because the US is starting off from the floor and China is already at the ceiling.

“Key is what happens if we do not get a deal by 15 December,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Singapore. “Will the US agree to suspend the tariffs out of goodwill?”

Trump is also facing questions at home over how meaningful an interim deal will be and whether it will lead to further rounds of negotiations.

Even if a first phase deal is signed, it is expected to skirt more difficult issues such as US concern about Chinese industrial subsidies and other forms of protectionism. Similarly, from the Chinese side it is unlikely to address what Beijing sees as systematic American attempts to shut out Chinese technology companies from the US market over security threats as well as their access to American components.

The US Commerce Department on Tuesday released new proposed rules that would give it the power to restrict US imports of foreign technology and their use in domestic supply chains and infrastructure.

Published on November 27, 2019
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