President Donald Trump’s top negotiators are headed to Beijing next week to continue trade talks as the clock runs down ahead of a March 1 deadline.
Robert Lighthizer, the US Trade Representative, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to deploy for a third round of negotiations after last week’s critical trade talks were held in Washington with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and his team.
“We’re making progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, confirming US plans to continue talks.
A US official told CNN that talks last week went well and the Trump administration is trying to keep the momentum going as the 90-day clock winds down, even as top officials have acknowledged they still remain far apart on key issues.
Trump has threatened to increase existing tariffs and enact a third wave of penalties on Chinese goods imported to the US if the two sides can’t broker a permanent truce in a trade war that has spooked markets.
The American president has suggested he would be willing to accept a handshake deal that could extend the negotiations beyond the self-imposed deadline at the end of the month, but the White House has insisted March 1 would be a “hard deadline.”
It also remains unclear if the two presidents will meet anytime soon. One US official said the two countries were working to set up a meeting between Xi and Trump at the end of February.
But Mnuchin said nothing has been scheduled as the US awaits to see how much progress can be achieved next week.
“Right now the intent is that we meet this March 1st deadline,” said Mnuchin. “If there are remaining issues that we can’t get closed I think President Trump expects that he’s gonna sit down with President Xi and address those issues and we’ll figure out if needs to do that.”
The American president has made clear that he is the chief negotiator when it comes to China, and no final agreement will be reached until the two men meet again face-to-face.
“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 tweeted last week. Adding, “China’s representatives and I are trying to do a complete deal, leaving NOTHING unresolved on the table.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with China’s top negotiator at the close of two days of talks, Trump stressed that US and Chinese negotiators have made “tremendous progress” on a number of tougher issues, including forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft.
But Trump still signaled he was cautiously optimistic about being able to strike a deal with China, noting that there are certain issues the two countries don’t have agreement on yet.
Ahead of the third round of negotiations next week, Senate Democrats sent a letter to Mnuchin last Friday urging him to keep the pressure on China and not back down on key structural issues in order to broker a deal.
“We must have a substantive agreement that is a real victory for the US economy and not merely a pretext for ending the fundamental dispute between our countries on trade matters,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee wrote.
The President is facing a cascade of self-imposed deadlines over the coming month on major agenda items, starting with federal budget negotiations before the next funding lapse on February 15.
Trump has made resetting the US relationship with China a centerpiece of his presidency, pulling out of a planned multilateral trade deal drawn up by the Obama administration and launching a trade war last year that has contributed to an economic slowdown in China – and jitters in the US.