Trump, Xi chew over trade war at high-stakes dinner

BUENOS AIRES: US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had the future of their trade dispute – and broader rivalry between the world’s two top economies – on the menu at a high-stakes dinner Saturday.

The two were meeting in Buenos Aires, just before Trump was due to board Air Force One for Washington after attending the summit of G20 countries.

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The meeting, brought forward by an hour from its original time, may have been tacked on to the end of two days of world diplomacy, but it was in many ways the main event.

“We’ll be talking about a thing called trade,” Trump said shortly before the dinner in a show of understatement. “It’s a very important meeting.”

Trump has already imposed tariffs on more than $250 billion in Chinese goods – about half of the total imported into the United States each year – in an attempt to pressure Beijing to change its trade rules.

Duties of 10 per cent currently on most of those goods are shortly set to rise to a whopping 25 percent if a deal isn’t reached.

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And that’s not all.

As Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow said ahead of the dinner: “If things don’t work out in this US-China summit meeting, he will invoke another 267 some odd billion dollars in tariffs.”

With US-Chinese disagreements on Trump’s demands for better market access and intellectual property protections so profound, any real breakthrough is considered unlikely.

But financial markets, spooked by the potential impact on the world economy, hope that at least some kind of truce can be declared.

‘DAMPER’ EXPECTED?

Both sides have certainly come prepared for serious discussion. The White House released the names of the two delegations, totaling 20 people in addition to the two leaders.

On the US side, these include advisers such as Larry Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who are widely seen as wanting to cut a deal, but also hawkish advisers like Peter Navarro and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Navarro’s inclusion in particular was a surprise as he has harshly criticized China, accusing its leadership of duplicity.

Trump, as often in his diplomatic dealings, appears to consider his personal chemistry with Xi the most important factor in the success of the negotiations.

He has prided himself on building a good relationship with the Chinese leader, even though he acknowledges it may have trouble surviving.

“He may not be a friend of mine anymore but I think he probably respects me,” Trump said in September.

Trump’s G20 summit was overshadowed by his abrupt decision to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The White House said this was to show displeasure over Russia’s attack on Ukrainian shipping.

However, questions about whether Trump’s real motive was to avoid embarrassment about a deepening probe back home over improper links to Russia would not die down.

So Trump could use a big good news story to take home with him from Argentina.

Just hours before the dinner was to start, however, he suggested that he may not be quite in the mood and canceled a press conference over news of the death Friday of former president George H.W. Bush.

That “really puts a damper on it, to be honest,” Trump said.


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