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Trump-Xi summit will not happen in March: Mnuchin

Mar 14, 2019 | ,

By David Lawder and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A summit to seal a trade deal between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not happen at the end of March as previously discussed because more work is needed in U.S.-China negotiations, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday.

Mnuchin, speaking to reporters following a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing, said both sides were "working in good faith" to try to reach a deal "as quickly as possible."

"There's still a lot of work to do, but we're very comfortable with where we are," Mnuchin said. "I don't think there's anything significantly different on the currency issue from where we were last time."

Since Trump delayed a threatened March 1 tariff hike on Chinese goods following a late February round of talks, no new face-to-face meetings have been scheduled in the negotiations. But Trump and other administration officials have since sought to portray the talks as still making progress.

"We're doing very well with China talks," Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday as he sat down to meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. "We're getting what we have to get, and I think we're getting it relatively quickly."

At another White House event later on Thursday, Trump said: "Probably one way or the other we’re going to know over the next three or four weeks." He added that China had been "very responsible and very reasonable."

Trump acknowledged on Wednesday that Xi may be reluctant to come to the U.S. president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida without an agreement in hand after seeing Trump end a separate summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without a peace deal. But he said he was in no rush to complete a trade deal with China.

Washington and Beijing have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff battle as U.S. officials press China for an end to practices and policies it argues have given Chinese firms unfair advantages, including subsidizing of industry, limits on access for foreign companies and alleged theft of intellectual property.

At a separate hearing in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Mnuchin said he expected elements of the discussions to be resolved in the near future, as the two sides pore over a 150-page document they are working on.

The United States and China have slapped import duties on each other's products that have cost the world's two largest economies billions of dollars, roiled markets and disrupted manufacturing supply chains.

"As to whether or not we'll strike a final deal, that I would never want to say," Trump said on Thursday. "If it's not a deal that's a great deal for us, we're not going to make it."

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters there "were rumblings" about a possible meeting late next month.

China's state-run news agency Xinhua, in a brief report on Friday, said Chinese Vice Premier Liu He had spoken by telephone with both Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the two sides made further substantive progress on trade talks.

It gave no other details, other than describing it as a third telephone call.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Jason Lange and Steve Holland, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Tim Ahmann and Chris Prentice; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Peter Cooney)

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