White House's Mulvaney says China trade talks will be resolved 'one way or the other' within two weeks

Key Points
  • White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney says the U.S. should know in the next two weeks whether it will reach a trade deal with China.
  • The Trump administration is trying to strike an agreement to end a potentially damaging trade conflict.
  • Mulvaney also casts doubts on whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will move to ratify a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2018.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The Trump administration should know more about whether it will sign a key trade deal with China within two weeks, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday.

When asked about Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's suggestion that the White House could announce an agreement with Beijing in the next two weeks, the top Trump advisor said, "I think that's fair."

"Someone asked me how long is the negotiation going to go on and I don't have a specific answer to that," he said at the Milken Institute Global Conference. "It won't go on forever. I think at some point in any negotiation you realize: 'OK: we're close to getting something done so we're going to keep going.' On the other hand, at some point you just throw your hands up and say 'you know this is never going to get anywhere.'"

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"I think you'll know one way or the other in the next couple weeks," he said. "I think that's probably fair."

The White House has pushed for a deal to revamp its trade relationship with China and address concerns about trade deficits, intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. While the Trump administration has shown optimism about striking an agreement and ending a potentially devastating trade conflict between the world's two largest economies, final sticking points have tripped up talks. Investors have watched the negotiations closely, as success or failure in reaching a deal could affect a wide range of companies.

Mulvaney stressed the U.S. would not accept an agreement with China unless it was a great deal. The two sides have appeared to disagree not only on whether the U.S. would lift its $250 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as part of an agreement, but also on how to enforce provisions to crack down on what Trump has called Beijing's trade abuses.

Outside of his discussion about China, Mulvaney cast doubts on the Trump administration's other major trade initiative: its replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Congress so far has not moved to ratify the deal, dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, amid Democratic concerns about environmental and labor protections.

Trump currently faces one of the most pivotal stretches in his promise to overhaul U.S. trade relationships, which he argues have battered American workers and sapped wages.

While Mulvaney contended that the deal would "pass overwhelmingly and bipartisanly" if it got to the House floor, he showed doubts about whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would bring it to a vote.

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"She controls the floor and if it doesn't come up for a vote, it won't see the light of day," the White House chief of staff said.

Not just Democrats have raised opposition to ratifying the deal. In a Wall Street Journal column titled, "Trump's Tariffs End or His Trade Deal Dies," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, urged the president to remove tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and China before lawmakers approve the agreement.

If Congress does not move to ratify the agreement, Trump could stick with NAFTA or revive his threat to pull out of the agreement, Mulvaney said.

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