Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday morning, Donald Trump appeared to contradict a number of the trade headlines that have served as the basis for the risk-on move that’s driven US stocks to record highs.
Earlier this week, reports indicated that Iowa – a site floated by the administration along with Alaska and Hawaii – was no longer under serious consideration when it comes to the venue for a signing ceremony attended by the US president and Xi Jinping.
But Trump told reporters on Friday that Iowa (or somewhere in farm country) is still on the table. Whatever the case, he indicated he wants the deal signed in the US, not in Europe, as Reuters reported Wednesday. That suggests he may balk at getting the deal done expeditiously if he doesn’t get the optics he wants.
The president also seemed to indicate that the trade deal is not done. He referenced “if and when it is reached” when speaking about the prospective agreement and reiterated his usual talking point about China “wanting a deal”, a thinly-veiled attempt to frame Beijing as the desperate party in this two-sided dispute.
“Frankly they want to make a deal much more than I would”, Trump said. “We’re taking in billions in tariffs, I’m very happy”.
But the truly disconcerting bit came when Trump appeared to suggest that he has not green-lighted the rolling back of tariffs, contrary to reports that tariff relief (from both sides) was all but certain.
“China wants a partial rollback”, he said, adding that the White House hasn’t yet agreed to that. This about sums it up:
I asked Trump if he’s definitely going to meet with China’s Xi this year and he said “we’ll see.” pic.twitter.com/PT4XycJLJ7
— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) November 8, 2019
On Thursday, risk assets surged (and bonds plunged) on comments from Chinese Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng, who said that after “serious, constructive discussions, top negotiators agreed to remove the additional tariffs in phases as progress is made on the agreement”.
US officials subsequently confirmed Gao’s assertion to multiple media outlets, although Reuters later said that the decision to roll back the tariffs faced stiff opposition from hardliners.
Speaking of hardliners, Peter Navarro on Friday morning tried to pitch trade relief as something other than trade relief. Fox quoted Navarro as saying that the December 15 escalation could be “postponed” as part of an interim agreement. The market (and China) wants that escalation taken off the table for good.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox Business the US is “very optimistic” about a deal.
Draw your own conclusions.