News Article

Trade deal with China in reach says US commerce secretary

Wilbur Ross optimistic on agreement to resolve a trade deal with China

The U.S. commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, is “reasonably confident” about a quick negotiation of an initial agreement to address trade disputes between the U.S. and China over a year.

“We’re making excellent strides toward the conclusion of Phase 1 talks with the People’s Republic of China,” Ross told reporters on Tuesday at a Bangkok telephone conference where he attended the Southeast Asian Nations Association Summit.

Ross said leaders aimed to have a Phase One compromise prepared for Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping to sign on November 17 at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Chile to demonstrate how easily an arrangement could be achieved. But the conference was postponed because of the host country’s political instability.

“We’re finding another venue, and once we locate one, we’ll set up a date and go forward,” Ross said.

Ross wouldn’t confirm a Financial Times report that U.S. officials are considering rolling back tariffs on Chinese imports worth $112 billion, a key demand from Beijing. In parallel to the cessation of duties last month, the rollback was scheduled to take place in December.

Signs of a trade war settlement would be a welcome relief to business and business plans. Global supply chains were caught in the crosshairs of the trade dispute, with companies shifting production from mainland China to Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and Cambodia to avoid US-bound export tariffs.

Ross portrayed this development as a boon for the region, dismissing concerns about the trade war-related business uncertainty. “Frankly, I believe the confusion has been carried out much more in the press than in real life,” he added. “Vietnam has been a big beneficiary of the rethinking of supply chain management to diversify from China.” The trade secretary expects the Phase One deal to assist businesses.

“The question people had was largely one of duration,” he said. “We are concerned that this trade conflict would go on for years and years and years. I think when they settle Phase One, that will ease investors down a lot because they’ll see the end point is within reach.” When asked what it would take to regain business confidence lost in the trade war between the two largest economies in the world, Ross placed the blame on other political and economic events.

“You have a lot of fundamental economic weakness in Europe, for example, and a lot of uncertainty arising from Brexit,” he said. “I think it’s a little over-simplification to suggest that all the trade issues arise from the US-China discussions.” From Bangkok, Ross will continue his Indo-Pacific tour in Indonesia and Vietnam, travelling with a U.S. business leaders delegation.

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