U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He expressed optimism Friday that the two countries would reach a trade agreement and defuse a dispute between the world’s two largest economies, as both sides agreed to continue their negotiations for two more days.
“I would say that it’s more likely that a deal will happen,” Trump said to reporters at the White House.
Speaking through an interpreter, Liu, China’s top trade negotiator, said, “We believe that it is very likely that it will happen. And we hope that ultimately we will have a deal.”
Liu has been granted authority to negotiate directly with the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“The fact that they’re willing to stay for quite a bit longer period, doubling up the time, that means something,” Trump added, “I think there’s a good chance that it happens.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed that talks have been extended through Sunday.
Trump appeared to back away from his threat to more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods if no deal is achieved by March 1.
“You can tell this to President Xi,” Trump said to Liu. “If I see progress being made, substantial progress being made, it would not be inappropriate to extend that deadline, keep it at 10 percent instead of raising it to 25 percent. And I would be inclined to doing that.”
The U.S. is calling on China to make structural changes on key issues such as stopping the theft of American technology and reining in improper subsidies and other advantages provided to state-owned companies.
Trump said he expected to meet with Xi to work out the finer points of the deal. “Probably in Mar-a-Lago, probably fairly soon,” he said.
The two countries imposed more than $360 billion in tariffs in two-way trade last year, after Trump triggered the trade dispute over complaints of unfair trade practices. The tariffs have weighed heavily on both countries’ manufacturing sectors and raised concern they could exacerbate the global economic slowdown.
In the meeting, Mnuchin told Trump that “currency manipulation,” a significant sticking point in the trade talks, had been resolved.
“We’ve actually concluded and reached an agreement, one of the strongest agreements ever on currency, but we have a lot of work to do over the next two days,” Mnuchin said.
Details of the currency deal or any other part of the agreement have not yet been released.
Charles Boustany of the U.S.-based National Bureau of Asian Research co-authored a newly released report that includes recommendations on how to manage the trade impasse.
“We don’t believe the [Trump] administration has set the stage properly to get China to change,” Boustany told VOA. “It’s truly a test if China will change with these broad structural issues. So, we don’t think the deal they come up with is truly enforceable at this stage.”
Boustany said the U.S. must solicit the help of allies to build more pressure on China, adding maintaining U.S. efforts will not “be enough unilaterally.”
Praise and frustration
Trump effusively praised Xi and lauded the Chinese delegation. He recounted how in 1985, then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is the current U.S. ambassador to China, met and worked with Xi and predicted he would become China’s president.
Liu brought a letter from Xi that was read out loud by an interpreter. In it, Xi thanks the U.S. president for the “lovely video” the Trumps’ grandchildren made for Xi and his wife to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s children “speak fluent Chinese,” according to President Trump.
But Trump appeared frustrated by the legal and bureaucratic process needed to reach an agreement. Several times he argued with his own negotiating team on the need for a Memorandum of Understanding or Letter of Intent, both documents commonly used in negotiations.
“I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything, to me they don’t mean anything. I think you’re better off just going into a document. I was never, never a fan of an MOU,” Trump said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, lead negotiator of the talks, responded, “A Memorandum of Understanding is a binding agreement between two people. And that’s what we’re talking about in detail. This covers everything in great detail.”
Trump disagreed and argued until Lighthizer said, “No more! We’ll never use the term! We’ll have the same document — it’s going to be called a trade agreement. We’re never going to use MOU again.”