China and the United States are very close to a "phase one" trade deal, the Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said on Monday, discounting "negative" media reports.
China also remains committed to continuing talks for a phase two and even a phase three deal with the United States, the Global Times said on its Twitter feed, citing experts close to the Chinese government.
"The two sides have basically reached broad consensus for the phase one agreement," Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who is close to the trade talks, was quoted as telling the Global Times, adding that Washington and Beijing had agreed to roll back tariffs, but had not agreed on the specifics or size of the tariff removals.
Trade experts and people close to the White House said last week that completion of a "phase one" deal, which had been expected in November, could slide into the new year, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks and Washington counters with demands of its own.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment specifically on the Global Times report during a daily press briefing on Monday but reiterated that Beijing would like Washington to work with it to resolve the outstanding trade issues on a basis of equality and mutual respect.
According to U.S. and Beijing officials as well as lawmakers and trade experts, the ambitious "phase two" trade deal is looking less likely as the two countries struggle to strike a preliminary agreement.
The outlook for a phase one deal was further complicated last week when the U.S. Congress approved legislation to back protesters in Hong Kong, although the completion without major disruptions of district council elections in the Chinese-controlled territory on Sunday could help.
On Saturday, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said an initial trade deal with China was still possible by the end of the year. He warned that Washington would not turn a blind eye to what happens in Hong Kong, but also said it would be "a good sign" if the elections took place without violence.
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