WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – President Donald Trump planned to meet with members of his trade team on Saturday (Feb 16) for an update on ongoing talks with China, the White House said.
The meeting came as US and China send signals they may reach a deal or extend talks to end their trade war, easing fears that the Trump administration will ratchet up tariffs when a key deadline arrives in two weeks.
Investors on Friday cheered signs that the trade war between the world’s two largest economies is not escalating, with US equities climbing.
White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders named 10 officials who would participate in Saturday’s meeting, either in person in Florida, where the president is spending the weekend, or by phone.
The attendees included US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, White House economic director Larry Kudlow, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others.
Mr Trump on Friday hailed progress made in negotiations this week in Beijing attended by Mr Mnuchin and Mr Lighthizer. The two countries said they are working towards a preliminary written agreement, and will continue discussions in Washington next week.
The US has threatened to more than double tariffs on US$200 billion (S$271 billion) of Chinese goods if there is no deal by March 1.
“It’s going extremely well,” Mr Trump said on Friday. “If we can make the deal it would be my honour to remove” the tariffs, but otherwise many billions of dollars are pouring into Treasury, the president said at the White House.
President Xi Jinping also sounded upbeat, saying the latest round of meetings “achieved important progress in another step”, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
Mr Trump also said on Friday that he would consider bringing Democrats to the negotiating table. His remark suggested he may be preparing a campaign to sell a potential trade deal with China in Washington.
Some Democrats have pressed Mr Trump to stick to a tougher approach to Beijing.
“Any deal I make towards the end I’m going to bring Schumer – at least offer him – and Pelosi. I’m going to say please join me on the deal,” Mr Trump said, referring to Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I’ll put them in the room and let them speak up.”
Mr Trump’s optimistic comments contrast with the measured tone of the official US statement on the talks released by the White House. In the statement, the US cautioned that “much work remains”, making no mention of the “consensus in principle” cited by the Chinese in their own statement.
Both sides agreed to resume discussions in the US capital next week as they work towards a memorandum of understanding that could form the basis of a deal between Mr Trump and Mr Xi. A summit meeting between the leaders has not yet been scheduled.
US business groups welcomed the signs of progress but urged the two sides to close the gaps.
“A final, comprehensive deal is only possible if progress is made to address a range of structural reforms – including concerns over forced technology transfers – and tangible improvements in market access are clear, concrete, and enforceable,” US Chamber of Commerce head of international affairs Myron Brilliant said in a statement.
Any agreement should be “detailed, enforceable, time-bound, and result in market-access improvements that have a meaningful impact” on American companies, workers and farmers, said Mr Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council.
Mr Trump repeated on Friday that he is open to extending the March 1 deadline for higher tariffs if the two sides are close to striking a deal. He is considering a 60-day extension for negotiations, people familiar with the matter said earlier this week.
The White House statement on Friday said the Americans focused on structural issues in the Chinese economy “including forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, cyber theft, agriculture, services, non-tariff barriers, and currency”.
Mr Mnuchin sounded a positive note in Beijing while in Beijing, saying he and Mr Lighthizer held productive meetings with China’s Vice-Premier Liu He. Mr Xi also met the two Americans on Friday.
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