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Trump defends trade spat with China

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President claims US in 'better position' to make deal now than before

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump yesterday defended his trade war with China as tensions escalated and markets extended their losses, promising a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon, even as fears escalated about a protracted battle.

In a string of early-morning tweets, Mr Trump kept up his America First agenda in support of hefty tariffs and called on US companies to back him by shifting their businesses away from China. But he softened his tone on soya beans and other agricultural products, appealing to Beijing to act.

"When the time is right we will make a deal with China," Mr Trump said.

"It will all happen, and much faster than people think.

"Hopefully China will do us the honour of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your country will be making up the difference," he wrote in a post addressing US farmers directly.

Last week, the head of the US Department of Agriculture said more aid was being planned for US farmers but gave no details.

World stock markets hovered near two-month lows yesterday, although slightly more optimistic comments from US and Chinese officials on trade brought some comfort a day after equities suffered their worst sell-off so far this year.

A day earlier, Mr Trump said he would talk to Mr Xi at a G-20 summit in late June in Japan and yesterday praised his "respect and friendship" with Mr Xi.

Both sides had appeared close to finalising a deal in recent weeks before Mr Trump last week hiked up tariffs to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on US$200 billion (S$274 billion) worth of goods imported from China.

He has also threatened further duties of up to 25 per cent on a further US$300 billion worth of Chinese imports.

China, in turn, said on Monday that it planned to set import tariffs ranging from 5 per cent to 25 per cent on 5,140 US products on a US$60 billion target list. It said the tariffs would take effect on June 1.

Mr Trump said yesterday he could make a deal with Beijing now but would not be burned again and criticised China for scuttling a close deal with a last-minute attempt to renegotiate.

"We are in a much better position now than any deal we could have made," he said, part of 10 tweets addressing the China talks, including a suggestion that the US Federal Reserve tie interest rates to China's if Beijing lowers rates.

He said he saw his administration's trade efforts with China as a model for US negotiations with other nations as he initiates talks with Europe and seeks to ratify a pact with Canada and Mexico.

"Other countries are already negotiating with us because they don't want this to happen to them. They must be a part of USA action," he said.

China's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said during a trip to Russia that China-US talks were not a "one-way street" and needed to be conducted on the basis of equality, said China's Foreign Ministry.

"Both countries' negotiating teams have the ability and wisdom to resolve each other's reasonable demands, and in the end reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement." - REUTERS