BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and China will resume trade talks this week in Washington with time running short to ease their bruising trade war, but US President Donald Trump repeated on Friday that he may extend a March 1 deadline for a deal and keep tariffs on Chinese goods from rising.
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Both the United States and China reported progress in five days of negotiations in Beijing last week.
Mr Trump, speaking at a White House news conference, said the United States was closer than ever before to “having a real trade deal” with China and said he would be “honoured” to remove tariffs if an agreement can be reached.
But he added that the talks were “very complicated.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Friday the two economic superpowers “will continue working on all outstanding issues in advance of the March 1, 2019, deadline.
“These detailed and intensive discussions led to progress between the two parties. Much work remains, however,” Ms Sanders said about the Beijing talks.
She added that the two countries agreed to state any commitments they make in a memorandum of understanding. China’s Vice Premier and chief trade negotiator Liu He and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would be leading the talks in Washington, a White House source said.
US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address US demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.
Mr Trump, asked whether he would grant Beijing a 60-day extension to the deadline, said: “There is a possibility that I will extend the date. But if I do that – if I see that we’re close to a deal or the deal is going in the right direction – I would do that at the same tariffs that we’re charging now, I would not increase the tariffs.”
Mr Trump also said he would consider bringing top US Democrats – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – into the final stages of the talks to minimise their dissent with the deal. Spokespersons for the two lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The conclusion of the Beijing talks prompted optimism on Wall Street, where major stock indexes ended higher.
The US-China Business Council, which represents American companies doing business in China, applauded the announcement that the two sides would put specific language in a memorandum of understanding and said its existence could cause Mr Trump to push back the deadline.
“It does appear that enough progress has been made to possibly extend the deadline,” said Craig Allen, president of the Washington-based group. “The memorandum of understanding might not finish all the details, but if it contained the final picture … that would be a huge step forward.”
Chinese state news agency Xinhua said on Friday that China and the United States had reached a “consensus in principle” on some key issues, adding they had a detailed discussion on a memorandum of understanding on trade and economic issues. It gave no details.
The countries focused last week on technology, intellectual property rights, agriculture, services, non-tariff barriers and currency, and discussed potential Chinese purchases of US goods and services to reduce a “large and persistent bilateral trade deficit,” Ms Sanders said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met Mr Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday after a week of talks at senior and deputy levels, and called for a deal both sides could accept, Chinese state media said.
After talks on Thursday, Mr Mnuchin said on Twitter that he and Mr Lighthizer had held “productive meetings” with Mr Xi’s top economic adviser, Liu He.
“The consultations between the two sides’ teams achieved important step-by-step progress,” Mr Xi said, according to state television.
“I hope you will continue efforts to advance reaching a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement,” Mr Xi said at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
He added that China was willing to take a “cooperative approach” to settling bilateral trade frictions.
Mr Lighthizer told Mr Xi the senior officials had “two very good days” of talks.
“We feel that we have made headway on very, very important, and very difficult issues. We have additional work to do but we are hopeful,” Mr Lighthizer told Xi in a pool video shown to foreign media.
Neither country has offered new details on how they might de-escalate the tariff war that has roiled financial markets and disrupted manufacturing supply chains.
Although Mr Trump said last week that an extension of the tariff deadline was possible if a “real deal” was close, Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council, has said the White House had made no such decision.
But several sources informed about the meetings told Reuters there was little indication negotiators had made major progress on sticking points to pave the way for a potential meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Trump in coming weeks to hammer out a deal.
“Stalemate on the important stuff,” said one source. All of the sources requested anonymity because the talks are confidential.
“There’s still a lot of distance between parties on structural and enforcement issues,” said a second source. “I wouldn’t quite call it hitting a wall, but it’s not a field of dreams either.”