'Phase Two' China trade deal may come after US election: Trump

Stacks of shipping containers sit in a berth at the Port of Oakland, on Nov 18, 2019, in Oakland, California.
Stacks of shipping containers sit in a berth at the Port of Oakland, on Nov 18, 2019, in Oakland, California.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Negotiations for the second phase of a pending United States-China trade deal will begin promptly but the outcome may have to wait until after this year's election, President Donald Trump said on Thursday (Jan 9).

Mr Trump's remarks come days before Beijing's trade envoy is due in Washington to sign a "Phase One" agreement, marking a pause in the two sides' nearly two-year trade war.

The US leader also openly cast doubt on whether American farmers would be able to supply China, with the massive increases in agricultural exports expected to be part of the deal.

"We'll start right away negotiating phase two. It will take a little time," Mr Trump told reporters.

"I think I might want to wait to finish it until after the election because I think we can make a little bit better deal, maybe a lot better deal."

After efforts to reach a grand bargain proved elusive last year, the two sides agreed in December to a partial deal addressing only some of Washington's grievances about Chinese trade practices.

Since the trade war began, talks have broken down acrimoniously more than once.

And observers have speculated in recent weeks there may be little appetite for Phase Two even though many of the tariffs put in place during the conflict remain in place.

As part of the Phase One deal, China has committed to a minimum of US$200 billion (S$270 billion) in increased purchases over the next two years from the US, including US$50 billion in additional farm exports, according to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Annual US farm exports to China peaked in 2012 at US$26 billion, a time when commodity prices were higher.

"The big question I have is whether or not the farmers will be able to supply all that much more," Mr Trump said on Thursday. "It's the biggest contract ever signed."

Earlier on Thursday, China's commerce ministry confirmed Vice-Premier Liu He will travel to Washington next week to sign the Phase One agreement.

Markets have been cheered in recent weeks by the continued cooling of trade frictions between Washington and Beijing.