US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9 2017. Picture: REUTERS/DAMIER SOGOLJ
US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9 2017. Picture: REUTERS/DAMIER SOGOLJ

Washington — US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping could meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in June to hash out their differences on trade, but no new talks are scheduled, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday.

The world’s top two economies ended two days of negotiations in Washington on Friday with no deal. While making it clear that the US is unwilling to settle, Kudlow sought to tamp down concerns, insisting the process is ongoing.

“We need to see something much clearer and until we do, we have to keep our tariffs on,” Kudlow said in an interview on Fox News Sunday, adding: “We can’t accept any backtracking.”

As for future negotiations, while there are “no concrete, definite plans yet”, Kudlow said that China has invited treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer to Beijing, and higher-level discussions could be on the cards.

The chances of Trump and Xi meeting during the Group of 20 summit in Japan in late June “are probably pretty good”, the top White House aide said.

The G20 summit is scheduled to take place in Osaka on June 28-29.

Trump had accused Beijing of reneging on its commitments in trade talks and ordered new punitive duties, which took effect on Friday, on $200bn worth of Chinese imports, raising them to 25% from 10%.

He then ordered a tariff hike on almost all remaining imports — $300bn worth, according to Lighthizer — from China.

But Kudlow insisted it will be months before such punitive measures, following a period of public comment, and that there is still time to negotiate, though he refused to “put a timetable” on how long Trump is willing to wait.

“We have to change the trading relationship between two countries for the benefit of the US and its workforce and its ranchers and farmers … We have to do this,” Kudlow said. “The relationship has been too unbalanced.”

In his own comments on Saturday, Trump struck a more belligerent tone, urging China that it would be “wise for them to act now”.

“They know I am going to win … and the deal will become far worse for them if it has to be negotiated in my second term,” Trump tweeted.

While supporters laud Trump as a tough negotiator, free-trade-minded Republicans have warned that the tariffs could do real damage to the economy, and many farmers — including Trump supporters — say the tariffs have hit their bottom line.

Kudlow said he believes any damage to the US economy would be far less than predicted, and that it is a risk “we should and can take”.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted on Saturday that companies could easily avoid additional costs by producing goods in the US.

“Such an easy way to avoid tariffs? Make or produce your goods and products in the good old USA. It’s very simple!” he said on Twitter on Saturday, echoing a similar message he sent on Friday — and even retweeted.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Friday that US agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue said Trump had asked him to create a plan to help American farmers cope with the heavy impact on agriculture of the trade war with China.

A new aid programme would be the second round of assistance for farmers, after the US department of agriculture’s $12bn plan in 2018 to compensate for lower prices for farm goods and lost sales stemming from trade disputes with China and other nations.

“While China may backtrack, @POTUS is steadfast in his support for US farmers and directed @USDA to work on a plan quickly,” Perdue tweeted .

A USDA spokesperson was unable to give further details on the plan.

Perdue said in April when the US and China looked to be making progress towards a trade deal, the Trump administration did not have plans to provide farmers with more aid. In the past week, however, China weakened commitments for reform that it had made in negotiations for a deal to end the trade war.

AFP/Reuters