At G-20 meeting, US, China declare 90-day halt to new tariffs, White House says

At G-20 meeting, US, China declare 90-day halt to new tariffs, White House says
PHOTO: AFP

BUENOS AIRES - China and the United States have agreed to halt new tariffs as both nations engage in trade talks with the goal of reaching an agreement within 90 days, the White House said on Saturday (Dec 1) after US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held high-stakes talks in Argentina.

Mr Trump agreed not to boost tariffs on US$200 billion (S$274 billion) of Chinese goods to 25 per cent on Jan 1 as previously announced, as China agreed to buy an unspecified but "very substantial" amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products, the White House said.

The White House also said China "is open to approving the previously unapproved Qualcomm Inc NXP deal should it again be presented".

The White House said that if agreement on trade issues including technology transfer, intellectual property, non-tariff barriers, cyber theft and agriculture have not been reached with China in 90 days, both parties agree that the 10 per cent tariffs will be raised to 25 per cent.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi sat down with their aides for a working dinner at the conclusion of a two-day gathering of world leaders in Buenos Aires.

"This was an amazing and productive meeting with unlimited possibilities for both the United States and China. It is my great honour to be working with President Xi," a White House statement quoted Mr Trump as saying after the 2½ hour meeting.

Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said: "The two leaders reached consensus to stop imposing new tariffs." He described the discussion over trade as "positive and constructive".

Beijing's goal was to persuade Mr Trump to abandon plans to hike tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 per cent in January, from 10 per cent at present. Mr Trump has threatened to go ahead with that and possibly add tariffs on US$267 billion of imports if there is no progress in the talks.

The closely watched encounter came shortly after the Group of 20 industrialised nations on Saturday backed an overhaul of the global body that regulates international trade disputes, marking a victory for Mr Trump, a sharp critic of the organisation.

Mr Trump told Mr Xi at the start of their meeting that he hoped they would achieve "something great" on trade for both countries.

He struck a positive note as he sat across from Mr Xi, despite the US President's earlier threats to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports as early as the start of next year.

He suggested that the "incredible relationship" he and Mr Xi had established would be "the very primary reason" they could make progress on trade, though he offered no sense of how they might resolve the main issue dividing their countries.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump that only through co-operation could the US and China serve the interest of peace and prosperity. Washington and Beijing have also increasingly been at odds over security in the Asia-Pacific region.

At the same time, Mr Trump again raised with Mr Xi his concern about the synthetic opioid fentanyl being sent from China to the US, urging the Chinese leader to place it in a "restricted category" of drugs that would criminalise it.

The White House statement said the Chinese leader agreed. "President Xi, in a wonderful humanitarian gesture, has agreed to designate fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law," the statement said.

The talks between both men were widely seen as the most important meeting of US and Chinese leaders in years.

Afterwards, the editor of a major Chinese state-run newspaper also had a positive assessment of the outcome. "Based on information I received, talks between Xi and Trump went well and consensus was reached," Mr Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, wrote on Twitter, without giving details.

WTO REFORMS

Earlier on Saturday, the leaders of all the world's top economies called for reforms to the crisis-stricken World Trade Organisation (WTO) in a final statement from their summit.

Officials expressed relief that agreement on the summit communique was reached after negotiators worked through the night to overcome differences over language on climate change.

The final text recognised trade as an important engine of global growth but made only a passing reference to "the current trade issues" after the US delegation won a battle to keep any mention of protectionism out of the statement.

In addition to tariffs on Chinese goods, Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports into the US this year. Numerous countries have filed litigation at the WTO to contest the levies.

The US is unhappy with what it says is the WTO's failure to hold Beijing to account for not opening up its economy, as envisioned when China joined the body in 2001. The European Union is also pushing for sweeping changes to how the WTO operates.

"Notwithstanding our differences, we have been able to agree a path forward at the G-20," French President Emanuel Macron told a news conference. "The United States has endorsed a clear multilateralist text."

G-20 delegates said negotiations on the final summit statement proceeded more smoothly than at a meeting of Asian leaders two weeks ago, where disagreements on protectionism and unfair trading practices prevented a consensus.

European officials said a reference to refugees and migration - a sensitive issue for Mr Trump's administration - was excised to ensure consensus.

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