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Trump: China tariffs to stay in place as enforcement tool in any trade deal

The Trump administration's tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods will stay in place for a "substantial period of time," due to concerns that Beijing may not follow through on commitments it makes in a trade deal with the U.S., President Donald Trump told reporters March 20.

The U.S. has imposed three tranches of tariffs on imports of Chinese goods since July 2018, when an initial 25% tariff on $34 billion of imports from the Asian nation went into effect. Subsequent tariffs of 25% on $16 billion of Chinese goods and a 10% tariff on $200 billion of imports from China, were imposed in August and September 2018, respectively.

"We're not talking about removing them," Trump told reporters before departing the Oval Office for a visit to the Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio. "We're talking about leaving them for a substantial period of time because we have to make sure that if we do the deal with China that China lives by the deal. They've had a lot of problems living by certain deals."`

Despite the rhetoric, Trump maintained some optimism, also telling reporters March 20 that the deal to end the trade war, which has resulted in costly retaliatory tariffs from China on U.S. exports including aircraft, soybeans, wheat, pork and other agricultural goods, is "coming along nicely."

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently outlined to lawmakers concerns that China has not lived up to enforcing its trade commitments since becoming a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001. Washington is seeking to hold China accountable for what it cites as its forced technology transfer practices of American companies doing business there, as well as other intellectual property issues.

Lighthizer has previously floated the possibility of an enforcement mechanism that would allow American companies to be able to file anonymous complaints on market access, technology or intellectual property issues in China, which would be reviewed by trade ministers.

Trump's comments come amid conflicting reports regarding the race to end the costly ongoing trade war between the two nations.

On March 19, Bloomberg reported that American negotiators are concerned that China is reneging on agreements to change its forced intellectual property transfer practices after failing to receive assurances that Washington will lift its tariffs on the nation's exports to the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal also reported March 19 that talks to end the trade war are in the "final stages," according to sources.

An administration official confirmed to S&P Global Market Intelligence on March 20 that Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plan to travel to Beijing the week of March 25 for further trade talks.

Trump originally eyed a late March or early April meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, something the U.S. president has said must come before a deal between the nations is reached. The White House has not specified when such a meeting may occur.

A 90-day detente reached in December 2018 between the two nations led to an extension of a previous March 1 deadline, but no deal has been reached since then, even as talks intensify between the two countries' top negotiators.