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May 10, 2019 5:00 PM, EDT

US Gives China a Month for Trade Deal as Talks Stay Deadlocked

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He Chinese Vice Premier Liu He outside the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington on May 10. (Alex Edelman/Bloomberg News)

President Donald Trump’s administration told China it has a month to seal a trade deal or face tariffs on all its exports to the Unites States, even as both sides sought to avoid a public breakdown in negotiations despite a developing stalemate.

The threat was made during talks in Washington on May 10, hours after Trump upped the ante by imposing a second round of punitive duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods. The talks are under close scrutiny across global financial markets, and U.S. stocks turned positive after negotiators on both sides said the session had gone fairly well.

In a series of tweets that cheered markets further, Trump on May 10 declared that the talks with China had been “candid and constructive.” “The relationship between President Xi and myself remains a very strong one, and conversations into the future will continue,” he said. Further talks are possible, but there’s no immediate plan for the next round, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Earlier, in a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. officials laid out their bottom line, telling him that Beijing had three or four weeks to agree to a deal or face additional 25% tariffs on a further $325 billion in exports to the U.S., according to people familiar with the talks. The threat came in response to the lack of any meaningful concessions by China during two days of meetings, the people said.

The lack of progress left major question marks hanging over the search for a deal on trade — just one source of tensions in a growing geopolitical rivalry that’s already shifting supply chains and testing established economic and security alliances.

In a series of morning tweets, Trump, who is seeking re-election on the back of a booming U.S. economy, sought to justify his decision to hike tariffs as well as to convince businesses and financial markets that he wasn’t walking away from a deal.

“There is absolutely no need to rush,” the U.S. president said. In another tweet, Trump proposed a vast new plan to use income from tariffs to buy up the crops of American farmers who’ve watched their exports to China collapse, and send them to poor countries as aid.

The presidential good humor hid what people familiar with the discussions say has been an increasingly gloomy mood around the negotiations in recent days. Before the rebound late May 10, U.S. markets had posted their worst week of the year so far, as the trade truce that had been in place for months was shattered by new U.S. tariffs.

The S&P 500 recovered from earlier losses on Friday, ending the day 0.4% higher.

This week’s tariff move is likely to have significant short-term consequences for retailers and other U.S. businesses reliant on imports from China. But extending it to all trade would increase the economic and political stakes even further for Trump and American businesses.

Shanghai's container port

Shipping containers sit stacked at the Yangshan Deepwater Port, operated by Shanghai International Port Group Co., in this aerial photograph taken in Shanghai, China, on May 10, 2019. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News)

Such a step would see price increases on smartphones, laptops and other consumer goods — the kind that Trump’s advisers have been eager to avoid, out of concern for the fallout. It would likely provoke further retaliation, and some economists are predicting it could even tip the U.S. economy into recession just as Trump faces re-election in 2020.

Those risks are one reason why some analysts believe the two sides will eventually strike a deal.

“It is in both sides’ interest to keep talking,” said Clete Willems, who until last month served as director of international economics on Trump’s National Economic Council. “I don’t think there is any reason that we can’t still have an agreement. There was a lot of progress made over the last four or five months and we shouldn’t throw that away.”