President Donald Trump on Wednesday acknowledged concerns in Beijing about the possibility of him walking away from a trade deal, offering to push back a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping until a final deal is reached.
"We could do it either way," Trump told reporters 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."
Trump's comments represent a shift in tone from late last month, when he raised the prospect of a "signing summit" with Xi. Chinese officials have grown increasingly wary of putting Xi in a position where he might be embarrassed by an unpredictable Trump or forced into last-minute concessions.
While appearing to address Chinese concerns, Trump also warned on Wednesday that he'll reject a deal he doesn't like. "President Xi saw that I'm somebody that believes in walking when a deal is not done and, you know, there is always a chance that could happen," said Trump, who left a summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un last month in Hanoi after the two countries couldn't agree on the future of the North Korean nuclear-weapon program.
Trump and his aides have for weeks been pushing for Xi to agree to a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in Florida, to finalize a deal as soon as this month to end a dispute that has cast a shadow over the global economy.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer this week in testimony before a congressional committee said that "major issues" are still unresolved in the negotiations, adding that he couldn't yet predict the outcome of the talks that the administration hopes to finalize in the coming weeks.
Trump was scheduled to meet with Republican Senators over trade on Wednesday afternoon, as Democrats kept up pressure on the administration for a tough approach on China.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer repeated his call for Trump to only accept a deal that will address Beijing's treatment of intellectual property and to resist the temptation for a quick "win."
The U.S. and China have imposed tariffs on roughly $360 billion of each other's imports since July.
"President Xi is not going to give him much, and the president should have the guts to walk away because China is in a much weaker position, in part because of the tariffs that the president correctly imposed on China," Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "Stay strong, don't cave," he added.
Lighthizer told Senate Finance Committee members Tuesday that he couldn't predict success yet on Chinese trade talks but that negotiators are "working hard" and have "made real progress."
Lighthizer told lawmakers on the committee Tuesday that he could not predict when, or even if, a deal would be reached but said that he hoped the negotiations were in the "final weeks."
"I don't know when something's going to happen," Lighthizer said. "We're either going to have a good result or we're going to have a bad result before too long."
On Monday, a White House spokesman said no date had been set for a signing ceremony.
China has been wary about committing to a meeting between Xi and Trump before a firm agreement is in place. While the United States and China have made progress on the talks, Beijing continues to resist demands by the Trump administration that the Chinese believe could undermine national sovereignty or economic development.
The United States wants China to commit to lowering trade barriers, ending the forced transfer of intellectual property in deals with U.S. companies and scaling back subsidies of state-owned enterprises. It also wants China to promise to end competitive devaluation of its currency and be more transparent on foreign-exchange matters.
Figuring out how to enforce the trade agreement continues to be one of the biggest obstacles. Lighthizer outlined a situation in which U.S. and Chinese officials would meet throughout the year and raise concerns of companies in their respective countries. The Trump administration had been pushing an approach that would force China to abdicate its ability to retaliate against new U.S. tariffs. However, Lighthizer suggested that either country could impose tariffs if obligations created by the agreement were not being met.
Lighthizer said he had been trying to come up with a "sweet spot" that would most likely entail quotas, rather than tariffs, on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico but that would continue protecting the United States' domestic metal industries. Canada has said that it does not believe that any trade barriers on metals are warranted.
Negotiations with the European Union on a new free-trade agreement could also be derailed by a dispute over whether agricultural products will be included in the pact. The United States is demanding that farmers have more access to European markets, but the EU has insisted that is not on the table.
Information for this article was contributed by Andrew Mayeda, Justin Sink and Kathleen Miller of Bloomberg News and by Alan Rappeport of The New York Times.
Business on 03/14/2019
Print Headline: Trump open to China's concerns