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US President Donald Trump is light on specifics but says trade talks with China are 'going extremely well'

US President Donald Trump said on Friday that trade negotiations with China were going well, as a week of discussions wrapped up in Beijing with positive comments from participants but no tangible outcomes.

Talks were "going extremely well", Trump said during remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

"Who knows what that means because it only matters when we get it done," he continued, speaking before announcing his declaration of a national emergency over US border security. "We're very much working closely with China and President Xi [Jinping], who I respect a lot."

During a meeting between Xi and the US delegation earlier in the day in Beijing, Trump's chief negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said the US side felt "we have made headway on very, very important and difficult issues."

Productive meetings with China's Vice Premier Liu He and @USTradeRep Amb. Lighthizer.

" Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) February 15, 2019

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted on Friday that he, Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He had conducted "productive meetings".

But a statement from the White House was sparse on details, saying only that "detailed and intensive discussions led to progress between the two parties." Much work remained, the statement said, adding that high-level talks would continue next week in Washington.

Any commitments would be detailed in a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, the White House added.

Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council, called on both sides to ensure that such pledges were detailed and thorough.

"This process is not abstract and any agreement must be detailed, enforceable, time-bound and result in market-access improvements that have a meaningful impact for American companies, workers and farmers", the lobbying group's leader said in a statement.

US-China trade talks: Mnuchin positive after 'productive meetings'

Next week's round of negotiations look to be the most critical since Trump and Xi brokered a 90-day truce in tariff escalation on December 1. Despite suggestions that the US is considering extending the deadline by 60 days, the reprieve is currently set to expire on March 1, after which Washington has said it will increase tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports from 10 to 25 per cent.

Echoing an earlier statement this week, Trump said on Friday that he would consider keeping the tariffs at the same rate if he is satisfied with the level of progress. "If I see that we're close to a deal or that the deal is going in the right direction, I would [keep] the same tariffs that we're charging now," he said.

With Trump leaving the capital on February 25 for a three-day trip to Vietnam, where he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, any decisive agreement " whether to extend the deadline or broker a provisional agreement before Trump and Xi negotiate a final deal at a later date " will almost certainly have to be reached during next week's meetings.

Speaking about prospects for ending the trade war with China, Trump said on Friday: "We're a lot closer than we ever were in this country with having a real trade deal."

Trump and Kim to meet in Vietnam for second summit

The scope of negotiations was comprehensive, said Trump, who struggled to indicate what exactly was under discussion.

"We're covering everything, all of the points that people have been talking about for years and said couldn't be done," he said, "whether it was theft or anything, anything. The unfairness."

Earlier on Friday, the White House said forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights and cybertheft were the key issues the US side brought to the table in Beijing.

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which represents Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and many other multinational tech giants, weighed in on the talks, pressing for a resolution that will end the trade war.

"We urge President Trump to delay the March 1 tariffs increase as his administration and Chinese officials double down on current negotiations and work toward a solution that rolls back existing tariffs, addresses China's long-standing tech trade issues and ends this trade dispute," the lobbying group's policy director for Asia, Naomi Wilson, said shortly after Trump spoke.

The ITI's outgoing president, Dean Garfield, has testified before Congress and lobbied both US and Chinese policymakers on issues central to the trade war.

In testimony before a Senate subcommittee on international trade last year, Garfield said Trump's then-proposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods would raise prices for smart home devices, touch-screen devices, televisions and cameras because many of the items' key components were shipped from China.

"The structure of the global supply chain and the numerous product inputs from across the globe factoring into final products make it virtually impossible to exempt consumer goods from the increased costs attributable to tariffs," Garfield said in the testimony.

Additional reporting by Wendy Wu and Robert Delaney

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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