Ahead of a much-anticipated new round of talks between Beijing and Washington, President Donald Trump said on March 20 that the United States could keep its tariffs active on China for a “substantial period.”
According to a Reuters report citing people familiar with the talks, this could have consequences on the negotiation process, since “Chinese officials have been pressing for a full lifting of U.S. tariffs as part of any deal.”
Trump also said that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, two key figures in the trade talks up until now, would leave to go to Beijing. The announcement confirmed statements made by a U.S. official on March 19 to the same effect, Reuters reported.
According to Trump, the U.S. government would maintain the tariffs to help guarantee that China keeps up its end of a deal, should one be signed.
In December, during a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina, the U.S. president gave China 90 days, or until March 1, to negotiate a deal before a hike on existing tariffs went into effect.
Since early last year, the Trump administration has imposed 25- and 10-percent tariffs on over US$200 billion worth of Chinese exports. So far, citing good progress in the bilateral negotiations, Trump has delayed escalating the trade war, which has also seen Chinese counter-tariffs placed on over US$100 billion worth of American goods.
“The deal is coming along nicely,” Trump told reporters at the White House. He said Lighthizer and Mnuchin’s China trip was “to further the deal.”
When reporters asked the president about a possible lift on the tariffs, Trump replied: “We’re not talking about removing them. We’re talking about leaving them for a substantial period of time because we have to make sure that if we do the deal, China lives by it.”
U.S. negotiators have consistently demanded an enforcement mechanism be set up in any deal to ensure that China makes good on its promises. The Trump administration has expressed its desire for not only leveling the trade imbalance between America and China, but also getting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to enact major structural reforms.
While the Chinese economy has made use of market principles and capitalist pricing since the reform and opening up policies were enacted in the late 1970s, the Party continues to hold a dominating stake in many sectors. This control acts to cement the power of the CCP and its leaders but also hampers even trade and business relations with foreign countries.
“Washington is demanding that China end practices it says force the transfer of American technology to Chinese companies, improve access for American companies to China’s markets, and curb industrial subsidies,” per Reuters.
Later on March 20, Trump made a speech at a tank factory in Lima, Ohio. At the plant, which is currently the only producer of tanks for the U.S. military, Trump reiterated his desire for the United States to reach a “great” trade deal with China.
“We’re so far down, it’s got to be a great deal. If it’s not a great deal, you never catch up,” the president said.