US and Chinese trade negotiators planning for delay of December tariff

'Heading in a good direction'

U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators are laying the groundwork for a delay of a fresh round of tariffs set to kick in on Dec. 15, according to officials on both sides, as they continue to haggle over how to get Beijing to commit to massive purchases of U.S. farm products President Trump is insisting on for a near-term deal.

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In recent days, officials in both Beijing and Washington have signaled that Sunday is not the final date for reaching a so-called phase-one deal -- even though that is the date President Trump has set for tariffs to increase on $165 billion of Chinese goods. That date could be extended, as has happened several times when the two sides thought they were on the verge of a deal. Those prior deals, though, never held and tariffs continued to mount.

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Chinese and U.S. officials involved in the talks say they don’t have a hard deadline. On Friday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on two television appearances that there were “no arbitrary deadlines.” Such remarks from Mr. Kudlow -- especially when they are restated several times -- often reflect the president’s views and have been echoed privately by other U.S. officials.

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With both sides hinting that negotiations could be extended beyond Dec. 15, Mr. Trump himself has gone back and forth in his public remarks between threatening a prolonged trade battle and trying to calm jittery investors. White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has recently become involved in trying to help the two sides reach a trade agreement.

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At The Wall Street Journal CEO Council meeting on Monday, Mr. Kushner said the talks are “heading in a good direction.” Asked if Trump would follow through with more tariffs on Dec. 15, Mr. Kushner said: “I don’t know what his decision will be.”

President Trump, however, hasn’t yet made his decision, and he has overridden his advisers on trade several times to add tariffs.

The talks are dragging on. Working-level negotiators talk on most days, but as of Friday, lead negotiators on both sides hadn’t spoken for 10 days. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been tied up trying to get Mexico to agree to terms on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The biggest holdup in the U.S.-China negotiations is Washington’s demand that China guarantee its pledge to buy more American soybeans, poultry and other agricultural products.