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China trade talks going 'very well' before high-level parley - Trump

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02/13/2019 | 03:05pm EST
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin waves to the media as he and members of the U.S. trade delegation to China leave a hotel in Beijing

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday trade talks with China were "going along very well" as the world's two largest economies try to resolve their seven-month tariff war ahead of a March 1 deadline for a deal.

U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports from China are scheduled to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if the two sides don't reach a deal by then, increasing pain and costs in sectors from consumer electronics to agriculture.

Trump told reporters at the White House his administration has a "big team of people, very talented people, over in China right now, negotiating on the China deal."

"It's going along very well. We'll see what happens, but I think it's going along very well. They're showing us tremendous respect," Trump added.

Trump's comments echoed those of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who earlier told reporters in Beijing: "So far, so good," when asked about the progress of talks.

Mnuchin, along with U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, arrived in the Chinese capital on Tuesday for meetings with Vice Premier Liu He, the top economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, on Thursday and Friday. Deputy-level officials started talks on Monday.

The two U.S. cabinet officials will meet with Xi on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a source briefed on the arrangements. Representatives from the USTR's office and Treasury could not immediately be reached to comment on the report.

Trump met with Liu at the White House when a Chinese delegation came to Washington for talks at the end of January.

The U.S. president had said on Tuesday that the deadline for an agreement could "slide for a little while," but he preferred not to do so. Trump added he expects to meet with Xi to close the deal at some point.

Trump's advisers have described March 1 as a "hard deadline," but Trump told reporters a delay was possible.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said: "we'll see what happens on whether or not the president makes a move to change the deadline."

She also raised the possibility of a meeting between the leaders of the two countries, saying Trump's personal retreat at Mar-a-Lago in Florida would make a good venue.

"It will ultimately take ... President Trump and President Xi sitting down face-to-face figuring that out and getting that final deal because they are the only two that'll ultimately be able to nail that down," Sanders said.

Trump has said he did not expect to meet with Xi prior to March 1.

TALKS KICKED OFF MONDAY

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky said on Wednesday the two presidents were expected to meet "sometime in March," but no dates were set.

"Hopefully they are going to be meeting and will be able conclude a deal," Censky told a renewable fuels conference in Orlando, Florida. "Agriculture has to be part of it. It's a necessary part of the deal."

A growing number of U.S. businesses and lawmakers hope the tariff increase is delayed while the two sides tackle the difficult U.S. demands for major structural policy changes by China. They include ending the forced transfer of American trade secrets, curbing Beijing's industrial subsidies and enforcing intellectual property rights.

The latest round of talks in Beijing kicked off on Monday at the deputy level to work out technical details, including a mechanism for enforcing any trade agreement.

China's Foreign Ministry referred questions on the talks to the Ministry of Commerce, which did not respond to a request for comment.

James Green, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University, believes China is seeking a Xi-Trump meeting, hoping it would make a near-term deal on tariffs far more likely.

"From their point of view, they would have dodged a bullet," Green, who was USTR's top official at the U.S. embassy in Beijing until mid-2018, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Philip Wen, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Robarta Rampton, David Lawder, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Chris Prentice and Jarrett Renshaw in New York; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Nick Macfie and Jeffrey Benkoe)

By Roberta Rampton and Ben Blanchard

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