This file picture taken on November 9, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping leaving a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Picture NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP
This file picture taken on November 9, 2017, shows US President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping leaving a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Picture NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

Washington — The US and China are close to a trade deal that could lift most or all US tariffs, as long as Beijing follows through on pledges ranging from better protecting intellectual-property rights to buying a significant amount of American products, two people familiar with the discussions said.

Chinese officials made clear in a series of negotiations with the US in recent weeks that removing levies on $200bn of Chinese goods quickly was necessary to finalise any deal, said the people, who were not authorised to talk publicly about the deliberations. That’s the amount the Trump administration imposed after China retaliated against the US’s first salvo of $50bn in tariffs that kicked off the eight-month trade war.

One of the remaining sticking points is whether the tariffs would be lifted immediately or over a period of time to allow the US to monitor whether China was meeting its obligations, the people said. The US wants to continue to wield the threat of tariffs as leverage to ensure China will not renege on the deal, and only lift the duties fully when Beijing implements all parts of the agreement.

As part of the ongoing talks, the US asked the Chinese not to retaliate or bring World Trade Organisation cases in response to US tariffs that could be imposed to enforce the deal, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Dates for a summit between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have yet to be agreed on, according to officials from both countries who declined to be named. The Wall Street Journal, which reported earlier that the US and China were close to finalising a trade pact, reported that the summit could happen around March 27.

Plans for a signing ceremony have been complicated by Xi’s need to lead China’s annual National People’s Congress and to make other foreign trips.

US and Chinese officials “have conducted fruitful and intensive consultations and made important progress on many issues of common concern,” Zhang Yesui, a spokesperson for the National People’s Congress, the annual session of China’s legislature, told reporters in Beijing on Monday. “We hope that the two sides will continue to hold consultations and reach a mutually beneficial and win-win agreement,” he added. Asian stocks rose with US futures, and the yuan and Australian dollar advanced in early Asian Monday trading.

China’s offer

China is offering to lower tariffs on US farm, chemical, vehicle and other products, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the situation. Specifically, China would buy $18bn in natural gas from US-based Cheniere Energy, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

As part of a deal, China is pledging to speed up the timetable for removing foreign-ownership limitations on vehicle ventures, and to reduce tariffs on imported vehicles to below the current rate of 15%, the newspaper reported.

A senior administration official cautioned on Sunday that a decision had not yet been made over lifting the US tariffs. The official also said a debate was continuing inside the administration with Trump unlikely to make a decision before a deal was closer to being done, likening to situation to the debate over what to do with US sanctions in the lead-up to last week’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Asked during a congressional hearing last week whether a deal would see a lifting of US tariffs, Robert Lighthizer, the China hawk now leading the talks with Beijing, would say only that that was China’s desire.

Bloomberg reported on Friday that the US and China were close to finalising a trade deal.

Trump and members of his economic team have has sounded optimistic about the chances for sealing a deal. And US stocks have rebounded from their worst December since the Great Depression on signs the world’s two largest economies are resolving their trade differences without further escalation.

Truce extended

Citing progress toward a deal, Trump last week delayed a planned increase of tariffs on Chinese imports to 25%, from 10%, that was scheduled to take effect March 1.

On Friday, Trump said he demanded that Beijing, in response to his tariff delay, immediately remove all duties on US agriculture products.

The Chinese have offered to ramp up purchases of US goods by $1.2-trillion over six years, according to a person familiar with the matter. It’s still unclear how Beijing would follow through on those purchases if retaliatory tariffs remained in place and other trading barriers were not removed, the person added. China bought $130bn in US goods in 2017, according to US figures.

After several rounds of face-to-face meetings between US and Chinese officials since 2018, the sides are now in regular contact via phone and video conference to hammer out the details of a deal.

Bloomberg