Another Hurdle in U.S.-China Trade Talks: Where to Seal the Deal -- Update
By William Mauldin
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and China are grappling with a dual
challenge on trade: wrapping up an interim deal, and solving the
logistical puzzle of getting President Trump and Chinese President
Xi Jinping in the same place to sign it.
Messrs. Trump and Xi were widely expected to sign the "phase
one" trade agreement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit in Chile Nov. 16-17, but massive street protests there led
the Chilean government to cancel the event.
That removed pressure on the U.S. and China to forge a deal by
next week, allowing more time for negotiations and likely pushing
any signing ceremony until December or later.
"These types of meetings can't be arranged overnight," said
Wendy Cutler, a senior trade negotiator in the Obama
Further complicating the picture, she said, neither side would
want to lose its negotiating leverage by agreeing to a signing
location before they have come to terms on the deal itself.
Nonetheless, discussions have begun on a signing location.
A White House official said the administration has kicked around
more than a dozen possible sites to host the signing. But officials
cautioned that a location won't be announced until the deal is
agreed to by both sides.
Mr. Trump told reporters Friday that he hoped to sign the
agreement in the U.S., preferably in Iowa or somewhere else in
Iowa is a politically important swing state where farmers have
suffered due to a drop in Chinese purchases of U.S. farm goods, in
retaliation to his tariffs on Chinese imports.
While Mr. Xi has a prior connection to Iowa, former officials
say the U.S. would likely have to make further concessions to China
at the negotiating table to "pay" for a U.S. signing ceremony that
benefits Mr. Trump politically.
"If they think Trump wants it in Iowa, that's a bargaining chip,
and they'll get something for that," said Bill Reinsch, a former
trade official currently at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
Mr. Xi is already planning to travel to Greece for a state visit
Sunday, followed by a trip to Brazil to attend a summit of
emerging-market economies that begins Nov. 13.
Mr. Trump is set to travel to London in early December for a
summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which doesn't
include China, although he could potentially meet Mr. Xi before or
One idea floated by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is
holding an APEC summit in the U.S. in January, Malaysian Foreign
Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters there Thursday,
according to wire reports -- possibly providing another venue for a
Many Republican lawmakers are eager for the Trump administration
to lock in phase one of the deal with China, since that could help
restore farm purchases, as well as a rollback in tariffs imposed on
Sept. 1 that have hurt retailers.
"Who cares where it's signed?" said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the
Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told
reporters. "All we care is that it's signed."
The phase-one deal now being negotiated revolves around an
agreement by the U.S. to roll back tariffs on Chinese imports in
return for commitments by Beijing to purchase more U.S. farm
products, agree to new rules to prevent currency manipulation and
to open its financial sector to foreign firms.
U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the
talks on the U.S. side, has backed an enforcement system that would
allow tariffs to "snap back" on Chinese imports if Beijing doesn't
live up to its side of the deal. His office declined to
Still, there are divisions within the Trump administration over
what the phase-one agreement should look like. The two countries
were close to reaching a deal this spring, but then talks fell
Both sides are now working toward a limited deal, pushing
thornier issues down the road, but there is no certainty that any
pact is imminent.
"We're in that most dangerous of situations, where each side
feels that the other is in a weaker position," said Mr.
--Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
Write to William Mauldin at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 08, 2019 11:34 ET (16:34 GMT)
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