WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trump administration officials have not made any new plans to send a team to China for face-to-face trade talks although there is much work left to be done to reach a deal, White House trade adviser Clete Willems said on Friday.
“We’re talking to them (Chinese officials) every day, but no one’s got any trip plans,” Willems told reporters on the sidelines of a Georgetown Law School event. When asked about the prospect for future face-to-face meetings, he said: “Maybe. But there are no plans right now.”
The governments of the world’s two largest economies have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff battle for months as Washington presses Beijing to address long-standing concerns over Chinese practices and policies around industrial subsidies, technology transfers, market access and intellectual property rights.
Advances in talks drove the White House to indefinitely delay hikes in tariffs on $200 billion (£153.6 billion) worth of Chinese imports that were set to kick in on March 2.
Willems said the two countries had made progress in talks but that there was still much more to be done. He declined to say whether Trump would set a new tariff deadline should the talks stall.
Members of Congress and the business community have expressed concerns that Trump is so eager for a deal ahead of presidential elections next year that he may accept an agreement that falls short of addressing key structural issues.
Willems pushed back against such concerns, saying the notion that Trump will settle for a “bad deal” is “totally inaccurate.”
U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that Washington and Beijing have yet to set a date for Trump to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping - a sign that neither side sees a deal as imminent.
“Both sides agree that there has to be significant progress, meaning a feeling that they’re very close before that happens,” Branstad told the newspaper in Beijing. “We’re not there yet. But we’re closer than we’ve been for a very long time.”
One complicating factor has been Xi’s plans to visit Europe after a meeting of the National People’s Congress ends next week.
The Journal, citing people familiar with China’s thinking, also reported that after Trump’s failed meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, Beijing officials won’t commit to a summit until they are sure of a deal.
Chinese officials were surprised Trump walked away from denuclearisation talks with Kim and do not want the same thing to happen to Xi, the newspaper said. For the Chinese, any summit would basically be a signing ceremony, it said.
Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, gave Fox Business Network an optimistic view of the progress so far.
“It is historic, it is written down, it was agreed to by the Chinese who were here two weeks ago, but it has to pass through the political filter of President Xi and the politburo,” Kudlow said. “Perhaps a meeting of the leaders later this month or in April. Perhaps.”
Kudlow said the emerging deal would provide “an end to the theft of intellectual property” through forced technology transfers and hacking of computer networks.
“We will get substantially lower tariffs, or maybe an end to tariffs on cars, commodities, agriculture, industrial supplies. We will get an enforcement procedure,” he said.
“If the deal doesn’t work for the United States, and our long-term interests, whether it’s technology, IP, theft, enforcement, commodities, tariffs ... then it’s not our deal.”
Reporting by David Lawder and Alexandra Alper; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall