US-China trade war
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Wendy Cutler says conflicting considerations are weighing on the chief negotiators from the US and China. Photo: Handout

ExclusiveTrade war: US-China deal deadline ‘likely to be missed’, former US trade negotiator Wendy Cutler says

  • ‘The last mile is always the most difficult’, former official tells China Conference USA
  • Both sides have said they are close to an agreement, but each needs to ‘show they got something’, she says

A former US government trade official has warned that China and the United States are likely to miss a looming deadline to reach an agreement meant to pave the way for an end to their trade war.

“Both sides have said that they are very close, but I can tell you as a trade negotiator that the last mile is always the most difficult,” former acting deputy US trade representative Wendy Cutler said, speaking at China Conference USA: Competition or Cooperation? sponsored by the South China Morning Post.

“You need a win-win deal that both sides need to be able to go home and show that they got something,” she said.

Cutler, currently managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Washington office, said conflicting considerations would increasingly weigh on chief negotiators with new tariffs set to come into force on Sunday.
Both sides have said that they are very close, but I can tell you as a trade negotiator that the last mile is always the most difficult
Wendy Cutler

“It’s going to be particularly important [for China] to be able to announce that they’ve achieved a … balanced deal, that it’s not just China that is undertaking commitments in this deal, but also the United States,” she said.

“What China is telling the United States is that it is not enough just to not go ahead with the December tariffs, but they also want to see some existing tariffs lifted.”

Officials from the two sides are trying to conclude negotiations before Sunday, when the Office of the United States Trade Representative is set to impose 15 per cent tariffs on a further US$156 billion worth of Chinese imports if an interim deal is not reached beforehand. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross repeated the warning last week.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has already put punitive tariffs of 15 to 25 per cent on about US$360 billion worth of imports from China since the trade war started in July 2018.

In addition to increased purchases of up to US$50 billion worth of US agricultural goods and intellectual property protection guarantees, US President Donald Trump is demanding an enforcement process to ensure that commitments Beijing may offer as part of a trade deal are honoured.

Last-minute jitters notwithstanding, Cutler said there were “solid prospects for a conclusion of the phase one deal”, even if it did not get done by the deadline.

“We have seen some good steps in the past few weeks, including an announcement by China that it will be waiving tariffs on certain purchases of soybeans and pork,” she said.

“We have seen the United States relax some of the restrictions on sales, and we have seen China announce new enforcement measures with respect to intellectual property.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Former trade official pessimistic deal can be reached by deadline