Trump says he could let trade deadline slide, Xi to meet US officials

He could let it 'slide for a little while' but is not 'inclined' to do that

WASHINGTON/BEIJING: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he could let the March 1 deadline for a trade agreement with China "slide for a little while", but that he would prefer not to and expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to close the deal at some point.

US tariffs on US$200 billion (S$270 billion) worth of imports from China are scheduled to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent if the two sides cannot reach a deal by the deadline.

Mr Trump's advisers have previously described March 1 as a "hard deadline", but Mr Trump told reporters for the first time that a delay was now possible.

"If we are close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal and it is going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while," he said of the deadline. "But generally speaking, I am not inclined to do that."

"We are doing very well over in China," Mr Trump added.

More US businesses and lawmakers have expressed hopes for a delay in the tariff increase while the two sides tackle the difficult US demands for major "structural" policy changes by China aimed at ending the forced transfer of US trade secrets, curbing Beijing's industrial subsidies and enforcing intellectual property rights.

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said he discussed the US-China talks with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last week and thought the talks were "constructive and serious".

"They are making progress, and my hope is that by March 1, there will be enough progress to be made that at a minimum, there could be a delay in the imposition of additional tariffs," he told reporters.

Ms Erin Ennis, senior vice-president of the US-China Business Council, said more time may be needed for a deal, which will require a meeting between Mr Trump and his Chinese counterpart to complete.

In a related development, Mr Xi will meet on Friday with officials including Mr Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are in the capital for crunch talks towards a trade deal, the South China Morning Post reported.

"Xi is scheduled to meet both Lighthizer and Mnuchin on Friday," it said, quoting a source.

The Chinese delegation will be led by Vice-Premier Liu He, China's point man on trade, and central bank governor Yi Gang.

The two sides said major progress was made in talks last month in Washington but subsequent comments have been less optimistic.

The International Monetary Fund has warned of a possible global economic "storm" as world growth forecasts dip, citing the US-China trade row as a key pivot point. - REUTERS, AFP