U.S. Keeps China Tariff Threat Open as Talks Near Final Stage

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s top trade negotiator said the U.S. must keep the option of raising tariffs on Chinese imports as a way to ensure Beijing lives up to a trade agreement that could be finalized in a matter of weeks.

“We have to maintain the right to be able to -- whatever happens to the current tariffs -- to raise tariffs in situations where there’s violations of the agreement,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. “I can’t predict success at this point, but we’re working hard and we have made real progress.”

U.S. Keeps China Tariff Threat Open as Talks Near Final Stage

Under questioning from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, Lighthizer declined to say the administration will roll back U.S. tariffs if it reaches a deal with the Chinese. “That’s still a subject matter of negotiation,” Lighthizer said.

Lighthizer’s comments push back against speculation that a deal between the U.S. and China could see them reverse tariffs on roughly $360 billion of goods they’ve imposed on each other’s imports since July. Investors have been heartened by signs that Trump is looking to sign a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, possibly at a summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as early as this month or next.

Enforceable Deal

Lighthizer said that the U.S. is making “headway” on issues it considers important, including its desire for China to make deep structural changes to its state-driven economic system. Negotiators are working continuously, and the final document will be very detailed, possibly running as long as 120 pages, he said.

“In terms of timeframe, our hope is that we’re in the final weeks of having an agreement, but I’m not predicting one,” Lighthizer said. “There still are major, major issues that have to be resolved. And if those issues are not resolved in a way that’s beneficial to the United States, we will not have an agreement.”

Any deal must be enforceable or Trump won’t sign it, he added.

China is pushing for the U.S. to remove tariffs imposed on its goods last year following a USTR probe into Beijing’s intellectual property practices known as a Section 301 investigation, said the trade chief.

“The focus of the negotiation from the Chinese side is the removing of 301 tariffs,” said Lighthizer. China is also asking for “specific market access provisions that we also are considering.”

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