US, China 'close' on some parts of trade deal

The U.S. and China are “close to finalizing” the first phase of a trade agreement after high-level officials spoke over the phone Friday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerBob LighthizerBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Whiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election MORE spoke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Friday to discuss the first phase of a plan to end a bitter trade war between Washington and Beijing. The first phase of the deal would postpone an upcoming increase of tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Beijing drastically increasing imports of American crops.

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“They made headway on specific issues and the two sides are close to finalizing some sections of the agreement. Discussions will go on continuously at the deputy level, and the principals will have another call in the near future,” Lighthizer's office said in a statement. 

The two sides are working to finalize language regarding the first phase of the deal, with both sides hoping President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE and Chinese President Xi Jinping can officially sign it at a summit next month in Chile.

China is still urging the U.S. to cancel additional tariffs on Chinese imports, people briefed on the Friday call told Reuters, while Washington is seeking a pledge that Beijing will ramp up purchases of U.S. agricultural goods such as soybeans.

China has already started increasing its purchases of agricultural goods. It issued waivers for 10 million tons of soybean purchases this week and is reportedly mulling approving an additional 4 million to 5 million tons of grains, including wheat, corn and sorghum.

Trump has been quick to tout the potential deal as a victory for farmers as negotiations continue. 

“The deal I just made with China is, by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country. In fact, there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced? Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you China!” he tweeted earlier this month.

However, observers have cautioned that China has previously retreated from similar promises of agricultural purchases in the past and that mistrust will linger even if a deal is signed. 

“The Chinese don’t want Xi to move forward with this initial phase or this initial detente if they don’t get rid of the December tariff threat as well,” Stephen Myrow, managing partner at Beacon Policy Advisors, told The Hill this month. “No matter what they sign, they don’t really trust Trump.”