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 LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House MORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Apple reportedly dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups | Justices decline facial recognition case | Critics fear Facebook losing misinformation fight | Truce on French tech tax On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Trump at Davos warns Europe on trade | President boasts about US economy to global elite | Experts say Trump trade victories may yield little growth 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 John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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.”