President Donald Trump met with Special Envoy for President Xi Jinping Friday, promoting great promise for a trade deal and openness to extending the tariff truce deadline.
The current round of U.S.-China trade talks began Thursday and have made so much progress, according to Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin, that the Chinese delegation has extended their trip for meetings to continue through the weekend. Mnuchin joined president Trump in an Oval Office meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He Friday. The president and officials gathered answered questions for the press at the start of that meeting.
“Speaking for the United States, I would say it’s probably more likely that a deal does happen,” President Trump said of a potential trade deal with China.
“I think we have a very good chance of making a deal…both parties want to make it a meaningful deal,” President Trump said at the meeting with Liu, who was also there as special envoy for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Liu does not always carry the “special envoy” designation; this was the second time he has carried it on a trip to the U.S. It indicated he may have had stronger bargaining power during negotiations.
President Trump and U.S. Ambassador Robert Lighthizer engaged in a brief tense exchange when Lighthizer attempted to correct the president on MOUs (memorandum of understanding). Trump answered a reporter saying MOUs would be short term when Lighthizer broke in: “An MOU is a contract. It’s the way trade agreements are generally used. People refer to it like it’s a term sheet. It’s not a term sheet. It’s an actual contract between the two parties.”
Lighthizer was then asked the same question posed to Trump and he said MOUs “last while they last.” Trump cut back in, “By the way, I disagree. I think that a memorandum of understanding is not a contract to the extent that we want.” He went on saying they could do an MOU or not, that he didn’t care, then asked Lighthizer directly, “But if you do a memorandum, how long will it take to put that into a final, binding contract?” Lighthizer relented with a clap and said, “From now on we’re not using the words memorandum of understanding any more.”
“We’re going to use the term ‘trade agreement.’ All right? 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,” Lighthizer went on, to which Trump responded, “I like that much better.”
Presidents Trump and Xi agreed to a 90-day truce on tariff increases during which trade negotiators from each side would hammer out a deal. That meeting took place at the G20 Argentina on December 1. Trump has been adamant any deal must include an end to “unfair” trading practices and Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property.
Trump suggested to Liu Friday he was open to extending the March 1 tariff truce deadline for a deal. The U.S. president will “probably” meet with Xi in March at Mar-a-Lago to work out “finer points” of a trade deal.
Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue announced Friday that during the Oval Office meeting the Chinese pledged to purchase an additional ten million metric tons of U.S. soybeans. This comes as China had placed tariffs on the U.S. export in retaliation against U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods and prior to Trump and Xi’s 90-day trade truce that is set to end March 1. Perdue praised Trump for “bringing China to the table” and called the commitment a “Show of good faith by the Chinese. Also indications of more good news to come.”
President Trump pointed to China’s “many years of tremendous success at the expense of the United States” in bad trade policies under America’s past leaders. He has previously pointed to the massive trade imbalance between the two nations, calling for reciprocal trade.
He did confirm to reporters “We have a deal on currency and currency manipulation.”
Trump said he spoke for the Chinese president and vice premier as well as himself when he said they want to make the trade deal a “meaningful” one.