WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that the United States is on the verge of easing the China trade war, days before new tariffs are due to kick in between the world’s two largest economies.
“Getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China. They want it, and so do we!” Trump tweeted in a markedly more optimistic tone, after months of false dawns in a trade war roiling world markets.
The news triggered stock market gains and there was a new jump on Wall Street after a Bloomberg news report that a deal had been struck and was only waiting Trump’s approval.
An announcement could come as early as Thursday, Bloomberg reported.
Trump’s flagging of an imminent breakthrough comes ahead of new tariffs planned to take effect Sunday and also just as he is almost sure to become only the third US president to be impeached.
With his 2020 re-election battle heating up Trump is keen to seize the political initiative and show voters his punishing struggle with China has brought results.
However, it is not clear yet what Washington will get in return for a reduction in the tariffs pressure.
The US ultimately wants China to open its vast market to more goods and to conduct sweeping reforms of what Washington has long called systemic abuse against foreign investors.
Recently, though, White House officials have indicated they would settle for less in a so-called “phase one” deal.
China’s commerce ministry said Thursday that the two sides were in “close” contact ahead of Sunday’s deadline.
Dodging new tariffs bullet
In addition to existing tariffs, Trump had threatened to impose a 15% levy Sunday on around US$160 billion of Chinese exports, including popular US consumer goods like electronics and clothing.
China had previously said it would respond with a 25% tariff on US autos and a 5% tariff on auto parts – levies that were suspended earlier this year as a goodwill gesture.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the US side is offering to scrap the threatened Sunday tariffs and also cut existing duties imposed on about US$360 billion in Chinese goods.
Trump’s overall goal with China, a keystone of his presidency, is to uproot what Washington says are Beijing’s predatory trade practices, including forced technology transfers and massive intellectual property theft.
However, the proposed “phase one” deal is considerably more modest, focusing on increased Chinese purchases of American farm goods.
Trump himself has blown hot and cold, repeatedly insisting that China needs a deal more than the United States does.
At the end of November, he said he was in the “final throes” of negotiations, but days later he spooked world financial markets when he said “I have no deadline” for a resolution.
The intense talks, involving multiple trips by teams from both sides to and from Washington and Beijing, were further complicated by tensions over the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong.
Trump, somewhat reluctantly, signed a law passed with overwhelming congressional support in November that backs the Hong Kong demonstrators.
Beijing responded that the law was “abominable” and “sinister,” but ultimately appeared to have little in the way of counter-measures.