US, China 'close' on some parts of trade deal

Major obstacles however still remain

The US and China are reportedly “close to finalising” the first phase of a trade agreement after high-level officials spoke over the phone Friday, the US Trade Representative’s office announced. If successful, the first phase of the deal would postpone an upcoming increase of tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Beijing drastically increasing imports of American crops.

“They made headway on specific issues and the two sides are close to finalising some sections of the agreement. Discussions will go on continuously at the deputy level, and the principals will have another call in the near future,” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s office said in a statement after Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

What the two sides are working on is to finalise language regarding the first phase of the deal, with both sides hoping President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping can officially sign it at a summit next month in Chile. As part of the deal China is still urging the US to cancel additional tariffs on Chinese imports, people briefed on the Friday call told Reuters, while Washington is seeking a pledge that Beijing will ramp up purchases of US agricultural goods like soybeans.

So far, China has already began increasing its purchases of agricultural goods. It issued waivers for 10 million tons of soybean purchases this week and is reportedly mulling approving an additional 4-5 million tons of grains, including wheat, corn and sorghum.

However, observers have cautioned that China has previously retreated from similar promises of agricultural purchases in the past and that mistrust will still linger even if a deal is signed. 

“The Chinese don’t want Xi to move forward with this initial phase or this initial detente if they don’t get rid of the December tariff threat as well,” Stephen Myrow, managing partner at Beacon Policy Advisors, told The Hill this month. “No matter what they sign, they don’t really trust Trump.”

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