- The Trump administration said levying tariffs would pressure China to address intellectual-property transfer and other policies.
- Experts have long seen the second-largest economy as unlikely to budge on those issues.
- Ahead of a March deadline for trade negotiations, they remain unresolved.
Since igniting a trade war with Beijing last year, the White House has said it would force the world’s second-largest economy to change policies seen as unfair.
Seven months and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tariffs later, President Donald Trump appears to be bracing for the possibility of that not happening.
“[New York Senator Chuck] Schumer’s gonna stand up and say, ‘Oh, it should have been better,'” he said of a US-China trade deal on Friday in the Rose Garden while declaring a national emergency over border security. “Sadly, I’d probably do the same thing to them.”
After multiple meetings between high-level trade delegations from each country, there has been little evidence China has committed to the structural changes the US seeks. While officials are expected to resume negotiations in Washington next week, observers see slim odds for any meaningful breakthrough.
“The inability of the two sides to make progress in several rounds of negotiations points to a limited deal when it finally happens,” said Derek Scissors, a China expert at the conservative-learning American Enterprise Institute.
China has expressed a willingness to work toward reducing its bilateral trade surplus with the US, offering to increase purchases of American products like soybeans and semiconductors.
But it has denied engaging in practices Washington wants to change, including the forced transfer of American trade secrets. On vows to rein in state support for high-tech and industrial companies, another sticking point, key details remain elusive.
Even Trump administration officials have become increasingly pessimistic that Beijing will budge on those anytime soon, the New York Times reported last month.
There are just over two weeks until a truce between the two sides expires, after which tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to increase to 25% from 10%. Trump has said he’s open to extending that deadline, potentially punting the dispute into the spring and setting the stage for a prolonged period of protectionism.
Scissors said he expects at least some duties will remain in place through 2020. Others think they could outlast the trade war itself.
“The hard parts have been kicked down the road and one wonders if there is any agreement that both sides would sign,” said Mary Lovely, a trade scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It seems likely that existing tariffs will stay in place even if Xi and Trump reach agreement on other issues.”
The White House did not respond to an email requesting comment.