WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump emerged from a June meeting in Japan with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, saying that China would immediately begin purchasing American farm products in return for a trade truce that would forestall more United States tariffs on Chinese goods.
China did not see it that way.
People familiar with the negotiations say China has denied making any explicit commitment to buy U.S. farm products during those discussions and instead saw large-scale purchases as contingent on progress toward a final trade deal that is still nowhere in sight.
That is raising questions among trade experts about whether the United States gave up more than it got during Trump’s recent efforts to de-escalate the trade war.
Trump agreed to delay imposing tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese imports and said he would ease restrictions on Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant blacklisted in May by the Commerce Department. In exchange, Trump said China would snap up U.S. farm products.
“China is going to be buying a tremendous amount of food and agricultural product, and they’re going to start that very soon, almost immediately,” Trump said on June 29. “We’re going to give them lists of things that we’d like them to buy. Our farmers are going to be a tremendous beneficiary.”
But Beijing has yet to engage in any large purchases of American farm goods since the meeting. Two people familiar with Chinese economic policymaking said China did not believe that an explicit agreement had been struck for specific farm purchases.
On July 9, Larry Kudlow, a chief White House economic adviser, said the U.S. expected China to begin making purchases of soybeans, wheat and potentially energy products, but acknowledged they had yet to materialize.
“The president, in a good-faith showing, has indicated that we will cease any new tariffs, any new tariffs,” Kudlow said. “Now, President Xi is expected — or we hope, in return for our accommodations — to move immediately, quickly, while the talks are going on, on the agriculture front. It’s good faith, but it would be real transactions.”
“Haven’t seen them yet, by the way,” Kudlow added. “But, yes, that was part of the conversation.”
It appears to be just the latest misstep in a drawn-out negotiation between the United States and China. And it suggests that, despite descriptions of progress by U.S. officials, a protracted trade war that has rocked global markets and clamped down on trade between the world’s two largest economies is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Beijing continues to push for the United States to remove the tariffs it has placed on $250 billion worth of Chinese products up front and let China carry out changes to its intellectual property laws and other regulations more gradually, people with knowledge of the talks say. The Trump administration has insisted that its tariffs remain while China makes the promised changes, but it is also eager to find a solution where China will move ahead with large purchases of agricultural goods.
Negotiators from the two countries are continuing to work toward a deal, and large-scale purchases could still happen. Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with China’s vice premier, Liu He, and its commerce minister, Zhong Shan, on July 9 about resuming the talks, according to a senior administration official.
In a statement the next day, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the two sides “exchanged views on implementing the consensus reached in Osaka” by Trump and Xi.
U.S. officials also said they were already going ahead with part of what Trump described as his concession: relaxing a ban on Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that the United States cut off from buying American technology amid national security concerns. The administration will issue licenses for U.S. companies that want to do business with Huawei “where there is no threat to national security,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said.