March 1 is 'hard deadline' for deal with China, says US Trade Representative

Unless US-China trade talks wrap up successfully by March 1, new tariffs will be imposed, says US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

WASHINGTON • Unless US-China trade talks wrap up successfully by March 1, new tariffs will be imposed, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday, clarifying there is a "hard deadline" after a week of seeming confusion among President Donald Trump and his advisers.

Global markets are jittery about a collision between the world's two largest economic powers over China's huge trade surplus with the United States and American claims that China is stealing intellectual property and technology.

"As far as I am concerned, it is a hard deadline. When I talk to the President ... he is not talking about going beyond March," Mr Lighthizer said on the CBS show Face The Nation, referring to Mr Trump's recent decision to delay new tariffs while talks proceed.

"The way this is set up is that at the end of 90 days, these tariffs will be raised," said Mr Lighthizer, who has been tapped to lead the talks and appeared to tamp down expectations that the negotiation period could be extended.

After a turbulent week in markets, investors "can be reassured that if there is a deal that can be made that will assure the protection of US technology... and get additional market access ... the President wants us to do it", Mr Lighthizer said. "If not, we will have tariffs."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said both countries' economic and trade teams were "intensifying contacts and consultations", when asked if China was sending a trade negotiation delegation to the US this week.

"We hope both can earnestly, with joint efforts, put into effect the consensus reached by the two countries' leaders at the Argentina meeting," he told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

In Argentina just over a week ago, Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a truce that delayed the planned Jan 1 American hike of tariffs to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on US$200 billion (S$273 billion) of Chinese goods while they negotiate a trade deal.

However, the arrest of a top executive at Chinese technology giant Huawei has roiled global markets amid fears that it could further inflame the China-US trade row.

In a series of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, Mr Lighthizer, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro insisted the trade talks with China would not be derailed by the arrest, which they deemed solely a law-enforcement matter.

US equity markets have staked much on the outcome of the talks.

Stocks climbed early last week on optimism that tensions between the two sides were easing, then cratered after Mr Trump claimed he was a "tariff man" after all. But he also seemed to indicate the talks could be extended.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'March 1 is 'hard deadline' for deal with China, says US Trade Representative'. Print Edition | Subscribe