China statement on tariffs likely an attempt to prod White House

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The apparent confusion between the White House and China over whether an agreement was reached to lift existing tariffs may be the product of a deliberate negotiating strategy by Beijing. The Chinese officials announced that agreement had been reached to lift tariffs in an attempt to prod the White House in the direction.

The ongoing trade negotiations appeared to hit a snag Friday when President Trump said that no agreement had been reached in recent negotiations to lift any tariffs. That seemingly contradicted a statement Thursday by Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng that an agreement had been reached.

“If the phase one [of the ] deal is signed, China and the U.S. should remove the same proportion of tariffs simultaneously based on the content of the deal,” the commerce minister said.

William Reinsch, chairman of the international business program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that the minister did not specifically say that the White House had promised to lift tariffs. Rather, he was sending a signal to the White House.

“What did they announce? That tariff rollbacks would be calibrated to concessions the two parties make — the bigger the agreement, the more tariff rollbacks. To my mind, that’s entirely obvious. They’re saying if Trump wants a big deal, he has to give more,” he told the Washington Examiner.

Derek Scissors, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that when the White House and Beijing first announced the framework trade agreement on Oct. 11, there was no statement on lifting tariffs or any indication that it was under serious discussion. According to him, it is therefore unlikely that China’s announcement Thursday was the result of confusion.

“The Chinese know there is a group advising the president that wants to roll back tariffs unconditionally. Another group disagrees either on the economics or, more convincingly, in my view, on the politics. The Chinese are trying to push the president to side with the rollback group,” Scissors told the Washington Examiner.

The White House and Beijing have been trying to reach agreement on a written version of last month’s trade agreement. The two sides have reportedly made progress on most issues except for intellectual property transfers.

Beijing has been pushing the White House to abandon plans to impose new tariffs starting on Dec. 15 of 15% on $156 billion worth of Chinese goods and to roll back some existing tariffs. Trump and other White House officials have indicated that the tariff threats are needed to ensure Beijing sticks to the agreement.

“They would like to have a rollback. I haven’t agreed to anything,” Trump told reporters Friday at the White House.

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