WASHINGTON — Businesses and investors have been nervously monitoring U.S.-China trade talks for months, hoping the world’s two biggest economies can de-escalate their trade war and restore some predictability to global commerce.
President Donald Trump delivered another setback to the optimists Tuesday, saying he was willing to wait until after the 2020 elections to close a deal with Beijing.
His comments came a day after Trump unexpectedly reversed his own policy on a separate trade front and pledged to tax steel from Brazil and Argentina. On top of that, his administration proposed to target $2.4 billion in French imports in a retaliatory move over France’s new digital tax. The Trump administration says France’s tax unfairly targets American tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook.
Trump’s mercurial statements and actions on trade have rattled investors this week. In late morning trading Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 400 points.
Dan Digre has long since stopped expecting much from U.S. negotiations with China. He’s heard it all before.
Digre’s 70-year-old family firm, Misco Speakers in St. Paul, Minnesota, is caught in the crossfire of the U.S.-China conflict. Misco is absorbing Trump’s tariffs on the parts it buys from China for the specialized speakers it makes for the aircraft and medical device industries, among others.
“I’m hopeful that something will happen, but I’m not optimistic,’’ Digre said. “There have been so many false deals: A deal is close, a deal is close — then nothing.’’
Both sides may have an incentive to reach a deal before Dec. 15. That’s when the Trump administration is set to start taxing an additional $160 billion of Chinese imports. These tariffs would hit many Chinese-made goods that are on holiday shopping lists — smartphones and toys, for example — and would extend Trump’s tariffs to just about everything China ships to the United States.
A former Trump administration official who has been briefed on the talks and requested anonymity to speak frankly said the U.S. is considering delaying the Dec. 15 tariffs if the talks go well — but keeping the option to restore the tariffs if no progress is made toward a more comprehensive agreement.
The signs have been mixed.
Last week, Trump said “We’re in the final throes of a very important deal.” And China’s Commerce Ministry reported that its negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, had spoken by phone with his U.S. counterparts, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The official Xinhua News Agency said the men had discussed their “core concerns’’ and “agreed to maintain communication on remaining issues in consultations on the Phase 1 deal.”
Earlier, China had made goodwill gestures, issuing improved guidelines for protection of patents, copyrights and other intellectual property and lifting a five-year ban on American poultry.
Then Trump’s comments Tuesday seemed to suggest that a breakthrough might not come anytime soon.