Donald Trump has declared that trade negotiations with China were “right back on track” after a highly anticipated meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Media reports said that Trump had agreed that the US would not impose further tariffs in an ongoing trade war that other world leaders have warned could threaten the global economy.
Xi and Trump agreed to restart trade negotiations “on the basis of equality and mutual respect”, China’s state news agency, Xinhua, said.
Trump told reporters that he and Xi had a “very, very good meeting”, adding that it had gone better than expected. China is expected to release a statement later on Saturday, while Trump will address trade friction at a press conference.
Trump said at the start of the meeting that he was open to a “historic fair trade deal” with China. “We are totally open to it,” he told Xi, who called for “cooperation and dialogue” instead of confrontation.
Trump added: “We want to do some things that will even it up with respect to trade. We were very close but something happened where it slipped up a little bit,” he added, in a reference to the failure of previous talks.
Xi said at the start of the meeting that he wanted to take China-US relations forward on the basis of “coordination, cooperation and stability”.
He added: “Forty years on, enormous change has taken place in the international situation and China-US relations, but one basic fact remains unchanged. China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in confrontation. Cooperation and dialogue are better than friction and confrontation.”
Fears of a protracted trade war that could put other countries, including Japan, in Washington’s crosshairs have overshadowed the G20 summit.
Trump had threatened to extend existing tariffs to cover almost all imports from China to the US unless Beijing made progress in meeting US demands for economic reforms.
Observers had expected Xi and Trump so call a truce and at least agree on a date for more detailed discussions, as Trump attempts to limit the economic fallout at home in the run up to the 2020 presidential election.
The dispute escalated when talks collapsed in May after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on reform pledges. Trump raised tariffs to 25% from 10% on US$200bn of Chinese goods, and China retaliated with levies on US imports.
The Trump-Xi meeting came hours after the European Union and the South American trade bloc, Mercosur, sealed a free trade deal after two decades of negotiations.
“In the midst of international trade tensions, we are sending today a strong signal with our Mercosur partners that we stand for rules-based trade,” the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said.
In a sign of the deep divisions over trade that have overshadowed the summit, the G20 communiqué is expected to call for speedier reforms to the World Trade Organisation but will leave out criticism of Trump-style protectionism, according to Japan’s Nikkei business paper.
Instead, Japan is pushing for the communiqué to include a statement promoting a “free, fair and non-discriminatory” trade policy, the newspaper said, adding that several other G20 nations had endorsed the proposal.