President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that his 90-day deadline for completing trade talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping could be extended -- while also threatening to ratchet up tariffs if he isn't happy.
"The negotiations with China have already started," Trump said in a series of tweets on trade talks between the two countries. "Unless extended, they will end 90 days from the date of our wonderful and very warm dinner with President Xi in Argentina."
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He then referred to his plan for escalating 10% duties on Chinese imports to 25%, tweeting: "Remember I am a Tariff Man."
The leaders of the world's largest trading partners struck a temporary truce on Saturday at a dinner in Buenos Aires, with Trump agreeing to maintain the 10% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, and to defer his original January 1 deadline for raising them further.
In exchange, China agreed it would be willing to purchase a "very substantial" amount of agriculture, energy and other goods from the United States to help reduce the trade imbalance.
But so far Beijing has resisted confirming commitments made by Xi and announced by the United States. Those have included pledges to "remove or reduce" auto tariffs on US car makers and purchases of agricultural products.
Trump raised the stakes on those pledges, saying in a tweet that he expects China to start buying more agricultural products "immediately."
Another layer of uncertainty over the talks has been a lack of commitment by the Chinese to broker a deal within a 90-day window announced by the United States, commencing from the date of the dinner.
Larry Kudlow, the White House's top economic adviser, said he couldn't speak to the reason why Beijing didn't include a timeframe in its own statement following the leader's dinner. "I wouldn't read a lot into that myself," said Kudlow, speaking at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council's annual conference in Washington.
Instead, Kudlow said a proposed gesture to reduce auto tariffs to zero would serve as a "litmus test" on China's commitments to fulfill a broad strokes agreement reached between the two leaders.
"I would use that as a litmus test, it's so easy," said Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council. The tariff had been previously set at 15%, but was ratcheted it up to 40% as part of a series of retaliatory measures taken by China against the US.
So far, Trump administration officials have offered tempered optimism on China's ability to move ahead with verbal commitments following years of broken promises.
National Security Adviser John Bolton said "some major changes" would need to be reached in China's behavior, but added, "Is there a path forward in which we can have fair and reciprocal trade? Sure."
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