WASHINGTON/BEIJING • The United States and China are close to agreement on the first phase of a trade deal, US President Donald Trump has said, after top negotiators from the two countries spoke by telephone and agreed to keep working on remaining issues.
Mr Trump said on Tuesday that Washington was in the "final throes" of work on a deal that would defuse a 16-month trade war with Beijing, but also underscored Washington's support for protesters in Hong Kong, a potential huge sore point with China.
China said it had summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest against the passage in the US Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, saying the Bill amounted to interference in a Chinese internal matter.
Mr Trump told reporters at the White House: "We're in the final throes of a very important deal, I guess you could say one of the most important deals in trade ever.
"It's going very well but at the same time we want to see it go well in Hong Kong."
He said he had a very good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and expected him to ensure a positive outcome in the Chinese-ruled city of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy parties won almost 90 per cent of 452 district council seats in Sunday's elections.
"I think that President Xi can make that happen. I know him and I know he'd like to make it happen," Mr Trump said, without elaborating on what exactly he expected Mr Xi to do.
Mr Trump's upbeat comments about the trade talks lifted markets, with Wall Street's three major indexes hitting all-time highs on Tuesday.
His remarks followed a telephone call on Tuesday by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He that was disclosed by China's Commerce Ministry.
It said the negotiators on both sides discussed core issues related to the phase one deal and reached "a common understanding on resolving relevant problems".
Completion of a phase one deal had been expected this month, but trade experts and people close to the White House said last week that it could slide into the new year, given China's pressure for more extensive tariff rollbacks.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the US and China were "getting really close" on a "phase one" trade deal.
She said Mr Trump wanted to "do this in phases, in interim pieces because it's such a large, historic trade deal".
Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that he believed the initial deal with China could be done before year end.
He said China had invited Mr Lighthizer and Mr Mnuchin to visit Beijing for in-person talks and the Americans were willing to go if they saw "a real chance of getting a final agreement".
The US Trade Representative and the Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.
A source familiar with the trade talks said the US officials could go to Beijing after today's Thanksgiving holiday.