US-China deal unlikely to be sealed in March

US President Donald Trump has offered to push back a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping until a final agreement on a trade deal is reached.
US President Donald Trump has offered to push back a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping until a final agreement on a trade deal is reached.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
US President Donald Trump has offered to push back a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping until a final agreement on a trade deal is reached.
TREASURY SECRETARY STEVEN MNUCHIN

Trump, Xi may meet in April at the earliest, if at all, say sources, with 'major issues' still unresolved

WASHINGTON • A meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign an agreement to end their trade war will not occur this month, and is more likely to happen next month at the earliest, three sources said.

Despite claims of progress in talks by both sides, a hoped-for summit at Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort will now take place at the end of next month if it happens at all, according to one of the sources.

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 source said.

Mr Xi's staff have scrapped planning for a potential flight to the United States, following a trip to Europe later this month, a separate source said. The sources asked not to be named as the details are private.

US stock index futures rose yesterday as investors welcomed positive signs regarding trade talks between the US and China, and after British lawmakers voted to delay a potentially chaotic exit from the European Union.

"We'll have news on China - probably one way or the other we're going to know over the next three to four weeks," Mr Trump said at the White House on Thursday.

SATISFACTORY PROGRESS

There's still a lot of work to do, but we're very comfortable with where we are.

TREASURY SECRETARY STEVEN MNUCHIN, saying that both sides were "working in good faith" to try to reach a deal.

"And then if one gets done, it will be something that people are going to be talking about for a long time because we have been really taken advantage of for a long time. And now I think - China, frankly, they've been very responsible and very reasonable."

China's state-run news agency Xinhua said yesterday that Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He had spoken by telephone with both US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday, and the two sides made further substantive progress on trade talks.

Xinhua gave no other details, other than describing it as a third telephone call.

Mr 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 Mr Trump walking away even if Mr Xi were to travel to the US.

Mr 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 Mr Xi until a final agreement is reached.

"We could do it either way," Mr 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."

 
 
 
 

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 Mr 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 sources said.

Those topics are negotiated at the ministerial level.

The countries exchanged drafts in English only and China now needs to translate the 150-page document and complete a so-called legal scrub, the sources added.

Any deal will have a "very clear enforcement provision", Mr Mnuchin said in his congressional testimony on Thursday, noting that he and Mr Lighthizer spoke with Mr Liu.

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

Mr Mnuchin, speaking to reporters following a US Senate Finance Committee hearing, said both sides were "working in good faith" to try to reach a deal "as quickly as possible".

"There's still a lot of work to do, but we're very comfortable with where we are," he said. "I don't think there's anything significantly different on the currency issue from where we were last time."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2019, with the headline 'US-China deal unlikely to be sealed in March'. Print Edition | Subscribe