China and US to push back Trump-Xi meeting to at least April

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet business leaders in Beijing, China, in 2017.
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping meet business leaders in Beijing, China, in 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping to sign an agreement to end their trade war won't occur this month and is more likely to happen in April at the earliest, three people familiar with the matter said.

Despite claims of progress in talks by both sides, a hoped-for summit at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort will now take place at the end of April if it happens at all, according to one of the people. China is pressing for a formal state visit, which traditionally takes place in Washington, rather than a lower-key appearance just to sign a trade deal, the person said.

Xi's staff have scrapped planning for a potential flight to the US following a trip to Europe later this month, a separate person said.

The people asked not to be named as the details are private.

Stocks edged lower and the dollar gained as investors weighed fresh developments in trade talks between the world's two largest economies.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week pointed to "major issues" still unresolved in the talks, with few signs of a breakthrough on the most difficult subjects.

Chinese officials have also bristled at the appearance of the deal being one-sided, and are wary of the risk of Trump walking away even if Xi were to travel to the US.

White House communications staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The State Council in Beijing also did not respond to a request for comment.

 
 
 

Trump himself has dialled down the urgency of getting a deal signed as early as this month.

He acknowledged concerns in Beijing about the possibility of him walking away from a trade deal, offering to push back a summit with Xi until a final deal is reached.

"We could do it either way," Trump told reporters on Wednesday at the White House.

"We can have the deal completed and come and sign or we can get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points. I would prefer that. But it doesn't matter that much."

SIGNING SUMMIT

There is currently no plan for the US to send another lower-level delegation to Beijing to iron out the details but it is possible Lighthizer would have to make the trip again to finalise some of the outstanding points in person.

The negotiations have zeroed in on the phasing out of joint-venture requirements, the deal's enforcement mechanism and the lifting of tariffs the two sides have imposed on each other, the people familiar with the talks said. Those topics are negotiated at the ministerial level.

While gaps have narrowed on a number of issues, a lot of work remains. The countries exchanged drafts in English only and China now needs to translate the document and complete a so-called legal scrub, the people added.

Any deal will have a "very clear enforcement provision," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in congressional testimony on Thursday, noting that he and Lighthizer spoke the night before with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He.

The agreement also "needs to be right - that's more important than the exact timing," Mnuchin said.