Slow progress and disagreement on key initial demands from Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping is raising doubts about whether the U.S. and China will actually return to the negotiating table to overcome their much deeper differences.
Trump complained again this week that China wasn’t buying the large volumes of U.S. agricultural goods that he claims Xi promised to purchase. Meanwhile, there’s been no change in how the U.S. treats telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co., a key demand of China.
With the conflict dragging on, reaching a comprehensive trade deal as Trump gears up for re-election next year increasingly seems like a remote possibility, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I’ve said repeatedly this is not a 10-minute process,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business on Wednesday. “This is a long, involved process.”
Trump’s trade team is now debating whether it would serve his re-election bid well to reach a trade deal with Beijing, which he then has to sell domestically in an environment that’s increasingly hostile toward China.
“As some in the U.S. administration are looking to 2020 as their guide for how and whether to proceed with an agreement with China, the Chinese leadership will be very cautious — fearing that any agreement reached may not last beyond the Twitter news cycle,” said James Green, who until recently was the senior official from the U.S. Trade Representative in Beijing and is now a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. “So it’s a political decision in China as well.”
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