Trump, Xi on finding way forward in trade talks


Slow progress on key initial demands from Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping is raising doubts about whether the US and China will actually return to the negotiating table to overcome their much deeper differences. Trump complained again this week that China wasn’t buying the large volumes of US agricultural goods that he claims Mr Xi promised to purchase. Meanwhile, there’s been no improvement in how the US treats telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, a key demand of China.
With the conflict dragging on, reaching a comprehensive trade deal as Mr Trump gears up for re-election next year increasingly seems like a remote possibility, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In addition to differing interpretations as to what was agreed when the two leaders met in Osaka last month, the countries have to decide whether to resume talks based on the draft agreement that collapsed in May, or to start again.
There are clear differences in how the two sides talk about what was agreed at the Group of 20 summit in late June. Trump boasted at a press conference after his meeting with Xi that the Chinese had agreed to buy “tremendous” amounts of agricultural goods.
But a member of the Chinese delegation told the US team that Beijing won’t make concessions on agriculture regardless of what Trump announced publicly, a person familiar with the exchange said.
According to that person, Beijing wants to see the Trump administration issue special licences for US suppliers to resume shipments to Huawei before buying more crops. However, people familiar with Chinese side of the talks say that China will not buy large amounts until it sees concrete progress in the talks. Since the May breakdown in talks, Chinese officials have repeatedly insisted that any deal must meet their three conditions of removing all tariffs, realistic purchase targets, and a proper balance and equality for the two sides.
US and Chinese officials will hold a telephone call later on Thursday that could pave the way for further in-person trade talks, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC. Mnuchin, speaking from the Group of 7 meeting in Chantilly, France, said he and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will in the call with their Chinese counterparts, adding that it follows an earlier discussion with their staffs.
We’ll see where we get, he said in an interview. We continue to make progress. I would expect Ambassador Lighthizer and I to travel over there to have an in-person meeting. Global stocks were rattled after comments on Tuesday from US President Donald Trump who reiterated his thrat to impose further tariffs on Chinese imports. On Thursday, signs that the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies was starting to take a toll on corporate earnings further unnerved investors, sending stocks down.
We have a long way to go as far as tariffs, where China is concerned, if we want. We have another US$325 billion (S$442 billion) that we can put a tariff on if we want, Trump said at a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Tuesday. He and Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed last month to revive trade discussions after talks fell apart in May. What they did was not appropriate, Trump said on Tuesday. They are supposed to be buying farm products. Let’s see whether or not they do.

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