As White House plans U.S.-China Phase 1 ceremony, still no final deal text

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has invited at least 200 people to a Jan. 15 ceremony to witness the signing of the Phase 1 trade deal between the United States and China, but the two nations have not yet finalized what, exactly, will be signed, White House officials said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

On Dec. 15, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said a deal to end the trade war between the world’s biggest importer and largest exporter was “totally done,” minus translation of an 86-page document into Chinese.

White House officials said on Friday the translation still has not been completed, although White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Business Network it “is virtually complete” and the signing is “all on schedule.”

Officials are waiting “for the Chinese translation of the 86-page agreement,” White House adviser Peter Navarro told CNBC later. The deal is “in the bank,” he said.

Top officials from Beijing and U.S. lawmakers from states affected by the 18-month trade war are expected to attend the signing in the White House’s East Room, between President Donald Trump and China’s vice premier Liu He, according to several sources.

Past trade negotiations between Chinese and U.S. officials have been marked by last-minute upsets. In May of 2019, an expected deal was scrapped here after Beijing eliminated binding legal language from the draft.

U.S. officials said here in December that Beijing has pledged to buy $200 billion more from the United States over the next two years as part of the deal, including some $40 billion a year in agricultural products. The U.S. will halve tariffs on nearly $160 billion in Chinese goods in return.

Beijing has not confirmed those details, and recent government actions here in the agriculture industry make the $40 billion target seem unlikely.

Chinese officials have been careful not to publicly discuss details of the Phase 1 deal, because Washington has changed its position multiple times during negotiations, three Chinese officials with knowledge of the situation said.

Beyond the signing, what matters is enforcement, one official said. For over a month, the sides have debated the text and word choice as they finalized the effective date for the agreement, the official said.

“Some minor issues” arose as translation unfolded, one U.S. source briefed on the negotiations said on Wednesday, adding it was “nothing that would delay the deal.”

China’s minister of commerce Zhong Shan, Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, and vice ministers of finance, foreign affairs and industry, are among those expected to attend. Another team will watch from Beijing in real time, a Chinese official said.

U.S. companies have paid nearly $40 billion in higher tariffs on Chinese products during the trade war, data from the U.S. Department of Commerce shows here.

Asked about Liu He’s visit to Washington at a briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated that both sides are in close communication on specifics pertaining to the trip.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jeff Mason in Washington; additional reporting by Jing Xu, Stella Qiu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Writing by Heather Timmons; Editing by David Gregorio