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Trade war

Trump open to delaying tariffs if 'real' trade deal close

Senator calls for administration to counter 'Made in China 2025'

U.S. President Donald Trump sits next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on Feb. 12.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump expressed a willingness Tuesday to let "slide" the March 1 deadline for a trade deal with China if the negotiations make sufficient progress.

"We have our people over there now," Trump told reporters at a cabinet meeting at the White House, referring to the working-level talks in Beijing. "I just got a report. Things are going well with China. China wants to make a deal very badly."

Asked whether he plans to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of March, Trump said: "Not at this moment." But he later said he expects them to get together eventually to finalize a trade deal.

"At some point, I expect to meet with President Xi -- who I have a lot of respect for and like a lot -- and make the parts of the deal that the group is unable to make," he said. "That's the way deals happen."

Regarding the March 1 deadline, after which the 10% punitive tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods are scheduled to go up to 25%, Trump said: "If we're close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal, and it's going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while. But generally speaking, I'm not inclined to do that."

He expressed a desire to avoid a deal that "cosmetically looks good for a year," signaling that he is looking for one that presses China on structural reforms.

Back on Capitol Hill, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, released the same day a report urging Washington to counteract Beijing's "Made in China 2025" initiative via measures in a bill he has sponsored: stronger controls on technology exports, restrictions on Chinese investment in the U.S., and higher duties on goods supported by the Chinese initiative.

The release, coming while U.S. trade negotiators were in Beijing to hammer out a trade deal, was timed to bring the views of China hawks in Congress to the fore as a reminder to Trump not to compromise on structural reform.

The report highlighted the challenges posed by China's "blatant industrial espionage and coercion -- actions that threaten our economic framework and our national prosperity," Rubio said in a video message.

The 80-page publication, "Made in China 2025 and the Future of American Industry," calls attention to structural issues in Sino-American trade relations, including forced technology transfers from U.S. to China and Chinese state subsidies to strategic sectors -- two of the topics covered in last month's talks between Trump administration and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Washington.

"China aims to become the global leader in innovation and manufacturing," the report said. "This would be an unacceptable outcome for American workers."

"Evaluating the 'Made in China 2025' plan should contribute to the American economic policy framework in two main ways," the report said. "First, assessing the plan's particular goals and progress toward them can identify areas for defensive action. Second, comparing areas of China's success to America's relative decline can help identify areas for creative reform."

"The most straightforward response" to Made in China 2025's "explicit selection of products and export goals is to respond in kind, based on the tools provided the U.S. by its membership in the WTO and reliance of China's exports on U.S. consumers," the report said -- a reference to how both countries belong to the World Trade Organization.

Rubio introduced in January the bipartisan Fair Trade with China Enforcement Act, which proposes the removal of certain tax privileges granted to China in order to curb its currency intervention efforts.

Rubio has long taken a hawkish stand on China. He co-introduced last month a bipartisan bill to create an Office of Critical Technologies and Security at the White House to guard against state-sponsored technology theft and risks to critical supply chains. Rubio was also a strong critic of Republican compatriot Trump's decision to essentially allow Chinese smartphone maker ZTE back into business in the U.S. last June.

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