USTR Lighthizer denies he said China tariffs on hold

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer gestures as he testifies before Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2019 for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Thursday denied a report that he had told some industry executives that another round of tariffs on Chinese imports had been put on hold as the two nations pursue talks.

“Ambassador Lighthizer has made no representations to industry executives that future Section 301 tariffs are on hold,” a spokesperson for his office said in a statement. “The plan for the tariffs ... has not changed at all. Any reports to the contrary are incorrect.”

The report appeared in the Financial Times, which cited an unnamed person familiar with the situation.

U.S. President Donald Trump has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports into the United States to force concessions from Beijing on his list of demands for trade reforms. He has also threatened to target another $267 billion worth of goods if his demands are not addressed.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that China had delivered a written response to Washington’s demands, citing three U.S. government sources. However, the sources gave no further details and it was not clear if the response contained concessions that would satisfy Trump.

The back-and-forth on trade comes ahead of an expected meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of November and in early December.

While two industry sources familiar with the contents of the response told Reuters it was largely a restatement of previous Chinese commitments, it was seen as a necessary starting point for continued negotiations.

One of the sources briefed on China’s response said it reiterated pledges Xi had made in recent speeches, and demanded that the United States lift tariffs, including those placed on steel and aluminum imports.

“They are not close to a favorable deal on trade. Not in the same universe,” the Washington-based source said.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Additional reporting by David Lawder and Eric Beech; Editing by Richard Chang and Phil Berlowitz