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Truce in Trade War After Trump-Xi Dinner in Argentina

The world’s two largest economies, the U.S. and China, have agreed to a small truce in their escalating trade war after a meeting between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping following the G-20 summit.

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President Donald Trump with China's President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting, Dec. 1, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Trump, speaking to reporters on Air Force One after the plane departed Argentina, said his agreement made over dinner with Xi, will go down “as one of the largest deals ever made. … And it’ll have an incredibly positive impact on farming, meaning agriculture, industrial products, computers — every type of product."

Trump agreed that he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products at the 10 percent rate, and not raise it to 25 percent, for now, as he has threatened to do come Jan. 1, according to a White House statement.

“China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. “China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately.”

Trump and Xi also “agreed to immediately begin negotiations on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture, according to the White House statement. “Both parties agree that they will endeavor to have this transaction completed within the next 90 days. If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10 percent tariffs will be raised to 25 percent.”

Some of the details were echoed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who confirmed that both countries will step up negotiations.

The news is likely to bring cheer Monday to global financial markets, which have been sensitive to the escalating trade battles between China and the United States.

Fentanyl designation

At the dinner, Xi also agreed to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance, meaning that people selling the powerful opioid to the United States will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under the law.

The White House is calling the Chinese president’s decision a “wonderful humanitarian gesture.”

Trump, sitting across from Xi at a long banquet table, described their relationship as “incredible” and predicted that would mean “we’ll probably end up getting something that’s good for China and good for the United States.”

In his remarks, the Chinese president noted, “it’s been a long time since our previous meeting and a lot of things have taken place.”

Xi added, “Only with cooperation between us can we serve the interest of world peace and prosperity.”

G-20 summit concludes

The 2½-hour meal, which was moved up an hour earlier than its original start time following the conclusion of the G-20 leaders’ meeting here, included a group of top officials from both sides.

Among those at the table for the United States: Trade policy adviser Peter Navarro, seen as the most hawkish member of Trump’s team when it comes to economic issues with China. The other key attendees for the U.S., according to the White House, were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, National Security Adviser John Bolton, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (who is a senior adviser) and Larry Kudlow, assistant to the president for economic policy.

Fears of no progress

Many major business leaders in both the United States and China had hoped for some sort of truce or partial deal in what is seen as an escalating trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Despite months of complaints by the United States and the U.S. imposing tariffs on about $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, Beijing “has not fundamentally alerted its unfair, unreasonable, and market-distorting practices,” according to a report issued last week by Lighthizer.

Observers feared that if no progress was made at the Trump-Xi dinner, the U.S. president would make good on his threat to double the amount of Chinese goods facing punitive taxes, and escalate tariffs to a 25 percent level at the start of the new year.

China, in response, had been threatening to impose taxes on an additional 5,000 types of American imports worth about $60 billion.

WTO reform

“I think the worst of it is that the conflict between China and the U.S. is again showing the limits of multilateral institutions, in particular the World Trade Organization,” Roberto Bouzas, an international relations and economics professor at the Universidad de San Andres, told VOA.

In its communique Saturday at the conclusion of the leaders’ summit, the G-20 called for reform of the WTO to improve its functioning and said the group would review progress made by the trade organization at next year’s summit in Japan.

“For the first time ever, the G-20 recognized the WTO is currently falling short of meeting its objectives and that it’s in need of reform,” a U.S. official, speaking on condition of not being named, told reporters.

“We’ll see what reactions we get in the next few months,” to the WTO reform call in the communique, G-20 host Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina, told reporters, adding, “there is clearly a need for dispute mechanisms that are more agile.”

No press conference

Earlier in the day, Trump canceled a planned news conference, saying the timing was not right because of the death of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the age of 94.

“He was a terrific guy and he’ll be missed. He lived a full life and an exemplary life,” Trump said of the late president. He did not respond to a reporter’s question about whether he regrets his past criticism of the 41st president, and his son, George W. Bush, who was the 43rd president.

“The fact that we lost a president really puts a damper on it,” Trump said of Saturday evening’s dinner.

At the table, Trump announced his plane would fly to Houston, in the state of Texas, after the return of Air Force One from Argentina, to transport Bush’s casket to Washington.

During the meal, Xi also expressed sympathies for the passing of the former president, saying Bush, who also was once the U.S. envoy to China, had “made many contributions to U.S.-China friendship.”

Xi, according to the White House, also told Trump he is open to approving the previously unapproved $44 billion bid by American semiconductor and telecommunication equipment manufacturer Qualcomm to purchase Dutch semiconductor maker NXP should the deal again be presented to him.

The acquisition collapsed four months ago after Chinese regulators expressed anti-trust concerns.

VOA's Bill Gallo contributed to this report, VOA News

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