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Trade talks with China ‘intensive’ but tariffs still set to balloon on March 1, White House says

‘Much work remains,’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders said ahead of new round next week

China and U.S. flags were displayed in front of the portrait of China's late Communist leader Mao Zedong during President Trump's 2017 visit there. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images file photo)
China and U.S. flags were displayed in front of the portrait of China's late Communist leader Mao Zedong during President Trump's 2017 visit there. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images file photo)

The White House on Friday said “intensive” trade talks this week with Chinese officials yielded “progress,” but there was no indication President Donald Trump is ready to delay a substantial ballooning of tariffs on Chinese-made goods set to take effect March 1.

“These detailed and intensive discussions led to progress between the two parties,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Much work remains, however.”

The latter assessment reflects what top White House officials have said for months: on major issues like Chinese government subsidies to its firms, U.S. companies’ intellectual property rights and a handful of others, Beijing has never budged months during nearly two years of high-level talks.

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This week’s round of talks in China, like others have focused on those issues and others like forced technology transfers demanded of U.S. companies, forced joint ventures, non-tariff barriers on agricultural and industrial goods, and cybersecurity matters.

“It’s the same list,” a clearly frustrated White House chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow told reporters in late November. “We haven’t seen much change.”

Since, Kudlow and others have promised reporters new rounds of talks have yielded “progress,” but they decline to provide specifics.

That language was back Friday, with the top White House spokeswoman saying “the United States looks forward to these further talks and hopes to see additional progress,” referring to a new round next week in Washington.

Trump earlier this week said he would consider pushing back a deadline in just 14 days at which time U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese-made goods will swell from 10 percent to 25 percent if he thinks talks are moving toward a deal. But Sanders gave no indication Friday that he is ready to make that move, a sign he sees it as leverage for his team of negotiators.

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“Both sides will continue working on all outstanding issues in advance of the March 1, 2019, deadline for an increase in the 10 percent tariff on certain imported Chinese goods,” Sanders said.

Lawmakers have both applauded the Trump administration for its tough stance on China’s trade practices and urged the president to resist an all-out trade war that could drive the American and global economies into a recession.

Report language in the spending package Trump is slated to sign Friday morning tells the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office it “shall” create a process for businesses to seek tariff exemptions for imported products affected by U.S. duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods. The agency has said it would create an exemption process if U.S.-China trade talks fail, prompting the tariffs to increase to 25 percent.

White House officials said earlier this month that any U.S.-China trade pact would not be required to get congressional approval, but they said they are keeping key lawmakers updated on the talks. Trump campaigned on getting tougher on Beijing in 2016, and brings it up at his political rallies as he gears up for a re-election fight.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.