U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he stands next to Xi Jinping, China’s president, in front of members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) band. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Trump Says Trade Deal Hinges on Xi Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he may soon meet with China’s Xi Jinping to finalize details of a possible trade deal as he declared negotiations in Washington were making progress.

“Meetings are going well with good intent and spirit on both sides,” Trump said in a tweet Thursday. “No final deal will be made until my friend President Xi, and I, meet in the near future to discuss and agree on some of the long standing and more difficult points,” Trump said in another posting.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was leading a second day of negotiations Thursday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the highest-level talks since Trump met Xi on Dec. 1 and declared a 90-day truce. Trump is scheduled to meet with Liu later in the day.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said he thinks a deal with China can be reached by March 1, and if not he’ll go ahead with plans to more than double tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports.

Trump Says Trade Deal Hinges on Xi Meeting

Chinese officials did not bring any major new proposals to the table for this week’s talks other than an invitation for Trump to meet with Xi in February after the U.S. president’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to one person familiar with the state of negotiations.

A breakthrough deal is seen as unlikely from this round of negotiations, and the White House has said a concluding statement will be released outlining progress made on core issues such as Chinese technology transfers and intellectual property practices, market access, and Beijing’s pledge to buy more American goods.

Half-Time Show

Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said officials have told him that progress is being made on some issues but not on concerns about forced-technology transfers and other industrial policies.

“We’re at halftime of the Super Bowl of trade relations,” Brilliant said on a conference call Thursday with reporters. “There’s still work to be done, there are still gaps in some of the important issues, and we’re hopeful that the two sides will work through this in a continuing, constructive and positive manner.’’

Brilliant said it will be positive if the March 1 deadline is delayed but significant progress is made. But if there’s little movement during the next 30 days, “the markets will react poorly because it will be a signal that the two sides have not found common ground on some of these sticky issues.’’

Trade Deal

Trump’s comments Thursday -- including that an agreement has a “very good chance of happening” -- were the clearest articulation he has given so far of his desire to resolve his trade war with China. 

That bold declaration is at odds with the consensus view of analysts and many in the business community who argue that extracting meaningful concessions from China will take time and could potentially require years to verify.

It also conflicts with what China hawks in Trump’s own administration have been saying all along. Their view has been that extracting real reforms from China that fundamentally alter its economic model -- and making sure they stick -- would entail a long grind. They also have mocked previous administrations for claiming victory in discussions with China only to see Beijing later flout agreements.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.