Wilbur Ross

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the next step in the long-running negotiations is “perhaps another phone call in a couple of weeks.” | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross suggested Wednesday that United States and China haven’t determined when to hold their next round of face-to-face trade talks.

“I don’t believe a date has been set,” Ross said in an interview on CNBC. Instead, the next step in the long-running negotiations is “perhaps another phone call in a couple of weeks.”

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He made the remarks one day after President Donald Trump’s administration announced it would delay a new 10 percent tariff on about $160 billion worth of Chinese goods until Dec. 15 to avoid any price hikes on goods such as cellphones, laptops and video game consoles before the Christmas holiday.

The move had temporarily bolstered investors’ confidence about an easing in the trade war between the two major economic powers. But by Wednesday, traders seemed to have renewed worries about a looming recession. As of 1 p.m., the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more the 700 points while the broader Standard & Poor’s index fell 2.75 percent.

The American Action Forum, a group opposed to the tariffs, said Wednesday that Trump has now imposed or threatened to impose tariffs on $555.6 billion worth of goods, raising costs for consumers by $96.6 billion.

Trump still plans to slap a 10 percent tariff on approximately another $112 billion or more of Chinese goods, to take effect on Sept. 1.

The Trump administration contends most of the cost of the tariffs is borne by China, even though Trump readily admitted on Tuesday that one reason he was delaying some of the duties was to spare holiday shoppers from higher prices.

Or as Ross put it on Wednesday: “Nobody wants to take any chance of disrupting the Christmas season.”

The Commerce secretary also said Trump decided to delay some of the duties without getting any concessions from China in return. There was “no quid pro quo,” Ross said.

A team led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He has been expected to return to Washington in early September for more trade talks, even though hopes have faded the two sides will reach a deal anytime soon.

Ross was asked about a scenario in which China could agree to buy more farm goods and in exchange the United States could ease some sanctions on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — but talks on more difficult issues are postponed until after the 2020 presidential election.

“Well, the president’s the ultimate arbiter of trade policy, obviously enough. But I haven’t come off the firm objective that we need structural reform,” Ross responded.

In an interview on Fox News, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro sidestepped a question about whether a deal would be reached before the 2020 election.

“I think what’s going to happen is we’re talking with them,” Navarro said. “We’ve got significant structural issues and I think speculating about that really doesn’t help the negotiations along.”

He also said Trump decided to delay some tariffs “so that we have an inflation-free Christmas and give the Federal Reserve more room to run in terms of lowering rates.”

Both Navarro and Trump have been leaning hard on the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in order to stimulate growth and help U.S. exports by lowering the value of the dollar.

Quint Forgey contributed to this article.



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