Trump says ‘granddaddy’ US-China trade pact could be done in ‘weeks’

President Donald Trump on Thursday hinted the United States and China may be inching closer to finalizing a deal to end a year-long trade impasse between the world’s two largest economic superpowers within weeks.

Speaking in the Oval Office, the President said a trade agreement, which he described as “the granddaddy of them” could be announced “within the next four week or maybe less, or maybe more, whatever it takes,” describing the possible agreement as “very monumental.”

He declined to confirm reports that he would hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month, following an afternoon meeting at the White House with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has been in talks with US negotiators this week in Washington. Instead, stressing “if there’s no deal, a summit with Xi is off.”

“If we have a deal, we’ll have a summit,” said Trump, who acknowledged the two sides hadn’t reached a deal on tougher issues tied to intellectual property, tariffs and enforcement. “If there’s no deal, we’re not going to have a summit.”

Liu hinted that the two sides are moving closer to a deal, calling the latest round of talks “fruitful.”

US and China negotiators “reached new consensus on such important issues as the text of the … trade agreement,” Liu said, according to state-run Xinhua news. The comments were a rare note of optimism from China over the ongoing negotiations.

Talks this week in Washington were yet another make-or-break moment for what has been closely held trade negotiation that has drifted beyond the ambitious 90-day clock set by the two leaders last year.

The tit-for-tat trade war between the United States and China has stretched beyond the one-year mark. But top officials from both countries in recent weeks have begun to signal they are nearing the end of a trade standoff that once rattled Wall Street, though neither side has provided details about how talks have progressed in recent weeks.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Wednesday said negotiators were making “headway” as Robert Lighthizer, the top US trade envoy, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin kicked off three days of talks on a comprehensive deal. The agreement addresses long-standing intellectual property issues and halting Beijing’s practice of forcing American companies to sell their technology to enter the Chinese market.

“We’re making headway, but hopefully we’re going to make more headway this week,” said Kudlow, speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

At issue is whether the two sides can reach an agreement that could potentially lift billions of dollars of tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for the United States having the power to take unilateral action to penalize Beijing if it fails to play by the rules of the deal.

“This end game issue — this is what we’re working through,” said Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce earlier this week. “This is why we don’t have a final package at this point.”

Trump and other top administration officials in recent weeks have sent strong signals they plan on keeping in place tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods for a “substantial period of time.”

“We have to make sure that if we do the deal with China that China lives by the deal,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington for Ohio ahead of Lighthizer and Mnuchin’s trip to Beijing last week.

At the time, Trump didn’t spell out whether the US is planning to keep in place tariffs on all of the $250 billion of Chinese goods the US has imposed penalties or for how long.

The White House could take a variety of approaches either by deciding to partially rollback tariffs or potentially reducing the level of tariffs currently imposed, a decision that will ultimately fall to the President who has favored a hefty tariff policy.

Kudlow declined on Wednesday to speculate on whether the administration would potentially ease tariffs on Beijing.