Former US Trade Representative says a China trade deal is probably weeks away, not months

Key Points
  • "They are going to have to find a way to meet," former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told CNBC's Martin Soong on Saturday at the China Development Forum in Beijing.
  • While talks to resolve their differences are ongoing, China and the United States remain far apart, with a lack of progress on forced technology transfers and the actual implementation of any deal.
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US-China deal could be made by end-April: Former US trade rep

Former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said it ultimately doesn't matter when the United States and China resolve their trade differences, as long as tensions don't escalate. But she ventured that "it feels" like a deal could come by the end of April.

Barshefsky acknowledged that Washington and Beijing are still far apart when it comes to resolving their trade  conflicts, but "they are going to have to find a way to meet," she told CNBC's Martin Soong on Saturday at the China Development Forum in Beijing.

There's no question that for the U.S., the notion of removing tariffs before China has implemented whatever obligations it undertakes, seems a risk.
Charlene Barshefsky
former U.S. Trade Representative

The world's two largest economies are in a trade dispute that has rattled world markets and dented global growth. Since last year, the U.S. has imposed levies on $250 billion of Chinese goods, while China has placed its own tariffs on $110 billion of American products.

"There's no question that for the U.S., the notion of removing tariffs before China has implemented whatever obligations it undertakes, seems a risk," said Barshefsky, who was the top trade negotiator for the U.S. from 1997 to 2001. "For China, to undertake obligations, and yet to still face tariffs, seems unfair. Those are the two extreme examples, two extreme positions."

Charlene Barshefsky, senior international partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, speaks during the U.S.-China Investment Cooperation Forum on July 17, 2012.
VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

Asked if she could give a timeline to a formal trade agreement between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump — even if it remains a stop-gap, band-aid temporary deal — she was optimistic that it could be within weeks, not months.

"I don't think we're months away. I think first of all, it doesn't matter when the deal occurs, provided the environment that currently exists remains stable," she said, adding: "If that stays stable and there's no escalation, either in rhetoric or in action, I don't really think it matters when the deal occurs."

She did, however, qualify that tariffs have definitely hit the U.S. consumers' pockets and that is "unfortunate."

"But how does is feel? It feels by the end of April," she said referring to when she expects a deal.

At the heart of the trade conflict is the widening trade gap between the U.S. and China. America's trade deficit with China in December last year was $38.7 billion, by far the most of any nation. Talks have also run into difficulties over topics such as China forcing American companies to hand over technology in exchange for market access.