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Trump-Xi meeting to sign trade deal could be delayed as US and China wrangle over terms and venue

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at the G20 leaders summit in Japan, June 29, 2019.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

A meeting between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign an interim trade deal could be delayed until December as the two parties look to agree on the terms and a new venue.

A senior administration official told CNBC that the White House’s goal is still to reach agreement with Beijing by Nov. 16 – when the now-canceled APEC summit in Chile would have taken place – but it’s not clear that that timeline can be delivered.

“The first order of business is to complete the negotiations,” this official said, noting that the potential venue was just one element of the discussions. The official cast doubt on a signing summit in Sweden or Switzerland, which Reuters reported as under consideration, but did not rule it out entirely.

Trump has suggested Switzerland as a possible meeting location for the deal signing since February, saying, “there’s nowhere more neutral than that,” according to an official paraphrasing Trump’s views.

A potential summit in Europe would be relatively neutral territory for the two leaders, both of whom are conscious of the political optics of signing a deal on the other’s home turf. Trump is scheduled to be in London for a gathering of NATO leaders on Dec. 3-4, and people close to talks say, a potential signing could happen nearby before or after that visit.

“Negotiations are continuing and progress is being made on the text of the phase-one agreement,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere.

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Last month, the Trump and Xi administrations started working to finalize a “phase one” trade agreement that included a pause in tariff escalation and China buying U.S. agriculture products. The deal was expected to be signed during an APEC Summit in Chile this month, but violent protests in Santiago led to cancellation of the event.

The United States and China have been at odds ever since over a possible U.S. location for the meeting. The U.S. suggested to host the meeting in Iowa to feature the agricultural benefits of the potential deal in a critical swing state. But the Chinese suggested Hawaii or Alaska – with a preference for Alaska, in part to revive a partnership over liquefied natural gas, according to two people close to the talks.

At earlier stages of discussions, Xi suggested the two leaders meet in Asia after Trump’s February summit in Vietnam. Months later, the two countries were discussing a signing summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Beijing has suggested that a full-fledged state visit in Washington would be required for Xi to visit the country.

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