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President Trump Ends Another Round Of Trade Negotiations With China


Trade negotiators from the U.S. and China are in the midst of another round of high-stakes negotiations in Washington this week. The world's two biggest economies are trying to reach a deal and avoid escalating the tit-for-tat tariff battle that's already costing businesses and consumers billions of dollars every month. President Trump met this afternoon with China's top negotiator and said he expects to meet face to face soon with the Chinese president.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Probably at Mar-a-Lago, probably fairly soon, during the month of March.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hey there, Scott.


CORNISH: So the president talking there about a possible meeting in March. But in the meantime, there's an important deadline looming a week from today. What is it?

HORSLEY: That's right. March 1 is the deadline that President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping set for themselves three months ago when they met in Argentina. And if they don't make a deal by then, U.S. tariffs on some 200 billion dollars' worth of Chinese imports are set to more than double - from 10 to 25 percent. So that's the clock you hear ticking in the background. It has given some real urgency to these talks. The top U.S. negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said this afternoon they are making progress. But the American side says there's still a lot of work to do. And the president said he thinks it's likely they'll get to a deal, but there's no guarantee.


TRUMP: Both parties want to make this a real deal. We want to make it a meaningful deal, not a deal that's done and doesn't mean anything. We want to make this a deal that's going to last for many, many years and a deal that's going to be good for both countries.

HORSLEY: Towards that end, the two sides have agreed to extend their negotiations through this weekend. And the president has also said this week there's nothing magical about that March 1 deadline. So if things are going well, that might be extended a bit.

CORNISH: So that means we might not see tariffs jump to 25 percent. But we're still seeing 10 percent tariffs on a wide range of Chinese imports. What kind of impact is that having?

HORSLEY: It's definitely something that's being felt both by American businesses and consumers that have to pay those tariffs, as well as by American exporters who are facing retaliatory tariffs on the Chinese side. We recently got trade figures from November, which showed that the president's China tariffs are costing north of $2 billion a month even at the 10 percent level. Of course, that would go up if they were to jump to 25 percent. And meanwhile, U.S. exports to China have fallen by about $4 billion a month both in October and November, compared to the same month a year ago. So U.S. businesses are really watching all this very carefully. Myron Brilliant is the executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

MYRON BRILLIANT: Let me be clear - the U.S. Chamber wants an agreement as soon as possible to end the ongoing damage done by tariff hikes. The costs of tariffs continue to mount. And we've had our members tell us the need to get back to business. We want to get back to business but not business as usual.

HORSLEY: Brilliant says there are some genuine structural issues that have to be dealt with in the U.S.-China trade relationship. And as much as he wants to see a deal that would end the tariffs, he also does want to see some substantive changes.

CORNISH: What kind of changes are we talking about?

HORSLEY: Well, when this all started, the issues that were uppermost of concern were protection of intellectual property, the forced transfer by China of American knowhow, greater access to Chinese markets. These are tough structural issues. These are bigger than just China agreeing to buy some additional soybeans. And what's more, U.S. trade negotiators want to make sure whatever deal they strike, it is enforceable. Now, the Chinese side says they are committed to making a deal, and they will - that China will do its utmost to make something happen here.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.