White House ‘disappointed’ in China trade response ahead of Trump-Xi

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is prepared to hike tariffs on Chinese imports if there is no breakthrough on longstanding trade irritants during a Saturday night dinner with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO – White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, U.S. November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Days ahead of the high-stakes dinner, it was unclear whether the two sides had agreed on a formal agenda for the leaders’ meeting after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, and Kudlow said there were no scheduled talks on the ground for their advisers.

The White House sees the dinner, which Kudlow hinted would involve Argentinian beef, as an opportunity to “turn the page” on a trade war with China. But he said the White House has been disappointed so far in the Chinese response to trade issues.

“Their responses have disappointed because … we can’t find much change in their approach,” he said, declining to comment on specifics.

“President Xi has an opportunity to change the tone and the substance of these talks,” he told a small group of reporters at a briefing at the White House. “President Trump has indicated he is open – now we need to know if President Xi is open.”

If there is no progress, Trump is prepared to raise tariffs on $200 billion of imports to 25 percent from current levels of 10 percent, and could add tariffs on another $267 billion of imports, Kudlow said.

“As we’ve all learned, he means what he says,” Kudlow said.

Kudlow listed as top U.S. issues intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, ownership of American companies in China, high tariffs and non-tariff barriers on commodities, and commercial hacking. He declined to comment on whether China had made offers of concessions.

“You can’t negotiate like that,” he said.

Asked whether the two sides had agreed on a list of agenda items for the leaders to discuss, Kudlow said: “We’re in some significant preparation on all that.”

Also unclear was whether the leaders would agree to a joint statement at the end of their dinner, as is typical for a meeting between two world leaders. “I’m not so sure about a statement at the end,” Kudlow said.

“It’s a dinner party-kind-of-thing,” he said.

Trump is also slated to take part in a signing ceremony for the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, Kudlow said. Details on the date for the ceremony were not immediately available.

As far as the formal G20 talks go, Kudlow said deputies were still working on a possible joint agreement, known as a communique, and that White House officials would evaluate it to see whether it was something that Trump could support.

“I don’t think anybody on our team is on pins and needles about the communique. If we got one, it’s got to be something we agree with. If we didn’t get one, there’d be no tears shed,” he said.

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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