Lighthizer: Soybean deal with Chinese a ‘surprise’
Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative who is leading high-level negotiations with China, acknowledged Thursday that President Trump’s announcement on Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans was a “surprise.”
Trump had told reporters in the Oval Office a short time before that China agreed to purchase 5 million tons of soybeans from the U.S., adding “that’s going to make our farmers very happy. That’s a lot of soybeans,” according to pool reports.
Speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Lighthizer said this “was a surprise announcement in the sense that I didn’t know about it until a very short time before.”
High level trade talks between the U.S. and China were in their second day Thursday. Trump claimed there was a “good chance” of a deal being reached between the two sides.
Trump also asserted Thursday, “I think that we have made tremendous progress. It doesn’t mean you have a deal, but I can say there is a tremendous relationship and warm feeling and we’ve made tremendous progress.”
The United States and China are seeking agreement on contentious issues like forced transfers of technology and intellectual property rights. Such a deal that would likely bring an end to the trade war between the two nations.
But the talks are proceeding under a self-imposed deadline.
U.S. tariffs on around $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are due to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent on March 1 in the absence of a deal.
The tariffs, together with retaliatory action from the Chinese, are generally seen as having had a dampening effect on both nations’ economies, with Chinese growth slowing and major U.S. corporations, including Apple, facing challenges in China.
Lighthizer appeared more circumspect than Trump about the chances of success. He said that representatives of the nation had “made headway” but declined to predict any particular outcome.
The talks “did not come off the rails — that’s significant,” Lighthizer said, before immediately adding, “Will we have an agreement? I don’t know.”
He also stressed, “I am by no means predicting success.”
Trump met Thursday with the Chinese vice premier Liu He. Trump has suggested he would want to meet directly with Chinese leader Xi Jinping before agreeing to a final deal.
Lighthizer, in his meeting with reporters, affirmed that March 1 remains the deadline for such an agreement.