Trump delays tariff hike on Chinese goods citing trade talk progress

In this file photo taken on February 22, 2019 US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2019
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Trump delays tariff hike on Chinese goods citing trade talk progress

  • The White House did not provide specific details on the kind of progress that had been made

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would delay an increase in US tariffs on Chinese goods thanks to “productive” trade talks and that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping would meet to seal a deal if progress continued.
The announcement was the clearest sign yet that China and the United States are closing in on a deal to end a months-long trade war that has slowed global growth and disrupted markets.
Trump had planned to raise tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports into the United States if an agreement between the world’s two largest economies were not reached by Friday.
After a week of talks that extended into the weekend, Trump said those tariffs would not go up for now. In a tweet, he said progress had been made in divisive areas including intellectual property protection, technology transfers, agriculture, services and currency.
As a result, he said: “I will be delaying the US increase in tariffs now scheduled for March 1. Assuming both sides make additional progress, we will be planning a Summit for President Xi and myself, at Mar-a-Lago, to conclude an agreement. A very good weekend for US & China!“
Mar-a-Lago is the president’s property in Florida, where the two men have met before.
The president did not set a new deadline for the talks to conclude, but he told US state governors gathered at the White House that there could be “very big news over the next week or two” if all went well in the negotiations.
The White House did not provide specific details on the kind of progress that had been made. China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the two sides made “substantial progress” on specific issues, citing the Chinese delegation in Washington.
Trump and Xi called a 90-day truce last year to give their advisers time to negotiate a deal. The threat of tariff increases represented significant leverage for the Trump team.
“We can’t be sure whether this constitutes a major cave or success because we don’t know the details of what has been negotiated. But ... agreeing to extend negotiations a few more weeks definitely is in China’s interests,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “At this point, the US has likely gotten all it’s going to get out of China.”
J.P. Morgan Asset Management market strategist Tai Hui said the move suggested both sides wanted a settlement of the dispute and added that further tariff escalation would have added to concerns about the US growth outlook.
Markets, which have been sensitive to the dispute as it has slowed global growth, and some US trade associations cheered Trump’s move.
US equity index futures opened higher on Sunday evening as trading kicked off for the week. S&P 500 e-mini futures ticked higher after Trump’s tweets on trade, suggesting Wall Street would open on positive footing on Monday morning.
Asian shares scaled a five-month high and the Australian dollar, a proxy for China investments, got a 0.4 percent lift from the news.
Chinese stocks and the yuan jumped at the start of trade, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite index up 2.1 percent, its highest since Aug. 1, and the yuan hit its strongest level against the dollar since July 17.
Trump leaves on Monday for Vietnam, where he will hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president, who faces a re-election battle next year, has portrayed his engagement with Kim and forcefulness with China as key successes of his presidency.

ENFORCEMENT STICKING POINT
Trump said on Friday there was a “good chance” a deal would emerge. But his lead trade negotiator, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, emphasized then that some major hurdles remained. Lighthizer has been a key voice in pushing China to make structural reforms.
China’s negotiators stayed for the weekend and the two sides discussed the thorny issue of how to enforce a potential trade deal on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the talks. Tariffs and commodities were also on Sunday’s agenda, he said.
Negotiators have been seeking to iron out differences on changes to China’s treatment of state-owned enterprises, subsidies, forced technology transfers and cyber theft.
Washington wants a strong enforcement mechanism to ensure that Chinese reform commitments are followed through to completion, while Beijing has insisted on what it called a “fair and objective” process. Another source briefed on the talks said that enforcement remained a major sticking point as of Saturday.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that both sides were drafting memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade, including subsidies.
Trump said he did not like MOUs because they are short-term, and he wanted a long-term deal. That sparked a back-and-forth with Lighthizer, who argued that MOUs were binding contracts, before saying they would abandon the term altogether going forward.
The source familiar with the talks played down the apparent tension between the top trade negotiator and the president, saying Trump, a former New York businessman, had viewed MOUs from a real estate perspective, while Lighthizer had done so from a trade perspective. There was no daylight between the two men, the source said.
At the White House event with governors on Sunday, Trump said Lighthizer was doing a “fantastic” job.


US-Saudi business council reports $13bn in contracts

Updated 24 May 2019
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US-Saudi business council reports $13bn in contracts

  • Improved oil prices, combined with a government focus on spending, contributed to the rise, the council said

LONDON: The value of joint Saudi-US contracts rose to $13 billion in the first quarter of 2019, according to a business council report.

That marked the highest value of awarded contracts since the first quarter of 2015, the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council said.

The value of contracts awarded during the first quarter amounted to about half of the total value in all of last year, it added.

The contracts “included many vital projects, notably in the oil, gas, water and transport sectors,” Abdallah Jum’ah, the co-chair of the council, was reported as saying by Asharq Al-Awsat.

Energy was the top sector, with $3.1 billion of the value of contracts awarded, with many struck by Saudi Aramco. 

Improved oil prices, combined with a government focus on spending, contributed to the rise, the council said.

The construction sector also looks set for a recovery after many projects were put on hold due to the oil-price crash.

“If the pace of awarding construction contracts witnessed during the first quarter of 2019 continues for the rest of the year, the index of awarding construction contracts may return to the range we witnessed before the canceling and postponing of mega projects due to lower oil revenue,” the council said.