Trump may extend China trade deadline, but final deal remains elusive

US President Donald Trump says the United States and China were moving closer toward a trade agreement and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 tariff deadline and meet soon with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but a final deal still remains elusive.

US and Chinese negotiators had made progress in their trade talks and will extend this week’s round of negotiations by two days through Sunday, Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday.

“I think that we both feel there’s a very good chance a deal will happen,” Trump said as he met with his top trade negotiators and their Chinese counterpart.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator, agreed there had been “great progress”.

“From China, we believe that (it) is very likely that it will happen and we hope that ultimately we’ll have a deal. And the Chinese side is ready to make our utmost effort,” he said at the White House.

The Republican president said he probably would meet with Xi in March in Florida to decide on the most important terms of a trade deal.

Extending the tariff deadline would delay Trump’s threatened tariff increase to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese imports into the United States. That would prevent a further escalation in a trade war that already has roiled stock markets.

Despite Trump’s optimism, his advisers were more cautious because China has not offered the kind of commitments that would ensure the economic transformation the White House has sought, people with knowledge of the talks said.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s top trade negotiator, warned that Washington and Beijing still have “very big hurdles” to overcome. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he’s encouraged by this week’s negotiations, but “it’s a little early for celebration.”

Lighthizer, one of the administration’s most ardent hard-liners on China, believes that China needs to make substantive and structural changes to its trade policies, as opposed to only minor changes it has offered in the past.

The US Chamber of Commerce on Friday urged the Trump administration to ensure the deal was comprehensive and addressed core issues, rather than one based on more Chinese short-term purchases of goods.

Significant gaps remain between the United States and China on structural issues, such as ending China’s policy of forced technology transfer, said Myron Brilliant, an executive vice president and the head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.

“The real question is whether the president wants a deal that requires real change in China or just a series of press talking points and some high-profile sales that add up to little in the long term,” Michael Wessel, a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told the New York Times.

Trump, who has set the bar for a trade deal extremely high, has repeatedly accused China of unfair trade practices that have hollowed out American manufacturing.

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