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Trump Meets With Vice Premier Of China To Discuss Potential Trade Deal


The Trump administration says it made substantial progress this week in trade talks with China. Those talks culminated this afternoon in an Oval Office meeting between President Trump and China's vice premier. China announced a major new purchase of U.S. soybeans, but there was no such breakthrough on the administration's major structural complaints. More talks are expected in the coming weeks, and NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hi, Scott.


SHAPIRO: Explain what the president is trying to achieve through these talks.

HORSLEY: President Trump says he's trying to broker a comprehensive deal to end the trade war between the U.S. and China. Of course, it was Trump himself who escalated that war last year when he imposed stiff tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese imports over what the administration says are unfair trading practices by China. In particular, the U.S. wants more access to Chinese markets and also an end to practices like intellectual property theft and the forced transfer of American technology. One question going into these talks was whether Trump would hold the line on those structural demands or if he would simply settle for, like, a big purchase order from China on soybeans. Trump told reporters he wants all of the above.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a serious deal that we're doing. This could be done very quickly very easily, but it wouldn't be comprehensive. It would be small.

HORSLEY: In speaking with reporters after the talks, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was pretty guarded about the prospects for actually making a comprehensive deal. He said there's still a lot of work to be done. But he did suggest it's a good sign that these talks didn't go off the rails during the last couple of days of very intense, very detailed negotiations. He likened it to a golf match where you can't win in the middle rounds, but you can lose. (Laughter) So the U.S. and China didn't lose in this middle round, but he said there's still a lot of putting left to come.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK, so still a lot of work left to be done, putting left to come, whatever analogy you want to use. What does that entail?

HORSLEY: Trade Representative Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to travel to China sometime in the middle of February for follow-up talks. That might have happened sooner, but we're just a few days away from the start of the Chinese New Year. So there is going to be a brief pause here in negotiations. If those talks go well, President Trump suggested it might set the table for an even higher level of negotiations.


TRUMP: I think that, probably, the final deal will be made - if it's made - will be made between myself and President Xi.

HORSLEY: President Trump was already planning another round of nuclear talks next month with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. That might happen in Asia. So if he's in the neighborhood, Trump might use that as an opportunity for another round of trade talks with Chinese President Kim - Xi Jinping.

SHAPIRO: And there's a tight deadline here - this March 1 limit. What - it's coming right up.

HORSLEY: That's right. Come March 1, the U.S. tariffs on some $200 billion in Chinese imports are expected to more than double if there is no agreement. So that clock is ticking, and there could be a - you know, that could be a powerful motivator for both sides to make a deal.

SHAPIRO: Finally, what about this soybean purchase that the Chinese announced?

HORSLEY: Well, remember, China had been a huge market for American soybeans. And they all but stopped buying last year in retaliation for Trump's tariffs. They did start up buying soybeans again on a small scale last month during this sort of truce in the trade negotiations. And in the Oval Office today, China's vice premier announced plans to really ramp up those soybean purchases. Trump called that a welcome development.


TRUMP: It's a sign of good faith for China to buy that much of our soybeans and other product that they've just committed to us prior to the signing of the deal - is something that makes us very proud to be dealing with them.

HORSLEY: Again, that doesn't deal with the more difficult issues of intellectual property protection and technology transfer. But it's certainly welcome news for a lot of Midwestern farmers who have been some of the big casualties caught in the crossfire of this trade war so far.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Scott Horsley speaking with us from the White House. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.