WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump expressed optimism on Thursday regarding the possibility of reaching an ambitious agreement with China in the next month to stop the trade war, after a round of negotiations which brought “advances” but with the thorniest chapters still to be resolved.
Trump received the Chinese Vice Premier, Liu He, at the White House, after two days of bilateral negotiations aimed at preventing the US raising its tariffs from the current 10 percent to 25 percent on Chinese products from March 1.
“This is going to be a very big deal or it’s going to be a deal that we’ll just postpone for a little,” Trump told reporters during his meeting with Liu and the US and Chinese negotiating teams.
“This isn’t going to be a small deal with China,” the president said during a previous event in the White House.
Trump seemed to leave the door open to extend, if necessary, the March 1 deadline he agreed to with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his Dec. 1 meeting in Buenos Aires.
But US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted later that Washington is not willing to prolong the negotiations for now, and the White House confirmed in a statement that March 1 is “a fixed deadline.”
Lighthizer and the US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin will travel to China in early February – after the Chinese New Year festival – to continue the talks, which should culminate in the signing of an agreement between Trump and Xi.
Trump will meet “once or twice” with Xi, but “there are some points that we don’t agree to yet, but I think we will agree. I think, when President Xi and myself meet, every point will be agreed to,” Trump said.
The meeting in the Oval Office began with the reading of a letter that Xi had sent to Trump, and in which he asked him to continue negotiating in “a climate of mutual respect” and to “meet halfway.”
Liu revealed that China was willing to buy “5 million tons of soybeans” from the United States, which Trump at first misunderstood that China would acquire that volume “every day.”
“That’s going to make our farmers happy. That’s a lot of soybeans,” said the US president, who considered the announcement a sign of “goodwill” on the part of China.
The Chinese delegation offered at the meeting to increase its purchases of US products and open the door to more investments from the US in its financial and manufacturing sectors, but supposedly did not offer any reforms to its economic and industrial policies.
As a condition for not tightening its tariffs on China, which range from textiles and food to fuels, the US also wants Beijing to commit to changes to protect the intellectual property of US companies and end what the US considers a forced transfer of technology.
“Will we have an agreement? I don’t know,” summarized Lighthizer after the two days of talks in Washington.
Trump did not rule out on Thursday that his possible trip to meet with Xi could be part of a tour in which he also holds his second summit with Kim, the date and venue of which will be announced “early next week,” probably during the State of the Union address that the president will give on Feb. 5.