US says March 1 'hard deadline' for trade deal with China

Unless US-China trade talks wrap up successfully by March 1, new tariffs will be imposed, says US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
US-China trade negotiations need to reach a successful end by March 1 or new tariffs will be imposed, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday, clarifying there is a “hard deadline."
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks during a Cabinet meeting held by US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, US, on Oct 17, 2018.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks during a Cabinet meeting held by US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, US, on Oct 17, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US-China trade negotiations need to reach a successful end by March 1 or new tariffs will be imposed, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Sunday (Dec 9), clarifying that there is a “hard deadline” after a week of confusion among administration advisers.

Global markets are jittery over prospects of a collision between the world’s two largest economic powers over China’s huge trade surplus with the United States and US 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 of the United States, he is not talking about going beyond March,” Mr Lighthizer said on the CBS show Face The Nation, referring to President Donald 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. 

In Argentina on Dec 1, Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a truce that delayed the planned Jan 1 US hike of tariffs while they negotiate a trade deal. The hike would have seen tariffs rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on US$200 billion (S$274 billion) of Chinese goods.

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

In Beijing on Sunday, China’s foreign ministry protested against the arrest to the US ambassador. 

 

In a series of appearances on the 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 earlier 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. He also seemed to indicate the talks could be extended.

But Mr Lighthizer, in his first comments since being appointed to lead the negotiations, said the US will need concessions across a number of areas in coming weeks if the higher tariffs are to be voided.

That includes demands for increased purchases of US goods in a more open Chinese market, as well as “structural changes” to a system that, for example, forces American firms to turn over technology to Chinese partners as a condition of doing business. 

“We need agricultural sales and we need manufacturing sales. We need structural changes on this fundamental issue of non-economic technology transfer,” Mr Lighthizer said. 

The demands are similar to those made under previous Democratic and Republican presidents, but Mr Lighthizer said he felt MR Trump’s willingness to go beyond “dialogue” and impose tariffs will produce results.