No ‘arbitrary deadline’ in US-China trade talks as new tariffs loom, says White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow

Robert Delaney

US President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser said on Friday that a December 15 deadline for Washington to slap additional tariffs on Chinese imports has not changed as US negotiators push Beijing to agree to an enforcement mechanism as part of a trade deal.

“There’s no arbitrary deadline here … but the fact remains that December 15 is a very important date with respect to a no-go or a go on tariffs,” Kudlow said in an interview with CNBC.

“If the assurances with respect to preventing future [intellectual property] theft are no good, if the enforcement procedures are no good, [Trump] has said we will not go forward. We will walk away.”

Trump has threatened to impose 15 per cent tariffs on a further US$156 billion worth of Chinese imports from December 15 if an interim deal is not reached before that date. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross repeated the warning on Tuesday.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has already put punitive tariffs of 15 to 25 per cent on about US$360 billion worth of imports from China since the trade war started in July 2018.

In addition to increased purchases of US agricultural goods and intellectual property protection guarantees, Trump is demanding an enforcement process that would ensure that commitments Beijing may offer as part of a trade deal are honoured.

China announced soon before Kudlow spoke that it would exempt some US soybeans and pork from tariffs.

China ‘could target trade talks’ over Xinjiang human rights bill

The customs tariff commission of the State Council said in a brief statement that some purchases of the two items by Chinese enterprises would not be hit by the punitive duties imposed as a countermeasure in the trade war with the US.

At a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng again said that if the two sides agreed to an interim trade deal, “tariffs should be reduced accordingly”.

When pressed on whether the two sides are close to an agreement, Kudlow said they were closing in.

“The reality is constructive talks, almost daily talks, we are, in fact, close,” Kudlow said.

News that Washington and Beijing remain engaged an effort to forge a trade deal comes in spite of rising tension caused by the passage of US legislation that has angered Beijing.

China tells US to reverse decision to blacklist Xinjiang tech firms

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives voted to approve the Uygur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019, which commands the US administration to identify and sanction officials deemed responsible for their involvement in the mass internment of members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.

Passage of the bill, which is expected to be approved by the Senate soon, “is unlikely to prompt Beijing to back out of ongoing trade talks”, said Eurasia Group analysts Andrew Coflan and Allison Sherlock.

The bill would allow Trump to use national security waivers to avoid those sanctions, “which in any case he already has the power to impose under the Global Magnitsky Act”, they said.

“Previous US actions targeting state surveillance in Xinjiang were met with only rhetorical resistance from Beijing,” they added, referring to the US government’s addition of Chinese technology companies to the US Commerce Department’s export-control “Entity List”.

The Commerce Department said the entities, including Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua Technology – two of the world’s largest makers of video surveillance products – had been targeted over the “brutal suppression” of Muslims in the region, where China has been accused of detaining more than a million ethnic Uygurs and other Muslims.

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