Topline: After announcing last month that a phase one trade agreement with China would be signed on January 15, Trump said in an interview on Thursday that the deal could now be signed “shortly thereafter,” though all signs still point to a resolution at some point next week.
- In his interview with ABC TV’s Toledo, Ohio affiliate that was first reported by Reuters, Trump said that “We’re going to be signing on January 15th—I think it will be January 15th, but shortly thereafter, but I think January 15th—a big deal with China.”
- While the White House has not clarified these comments, recent updates still indicate that a signing is imminent, and should occur by the end of next week—if not by January 15.
- Trump’s comments come a day after China confirmed that its top negotiator, Vice Premier Lie He, will be in Washington next week to sign the deal. Liu and his team will visit from January 13 to 15, China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday.
- Trump’s comments seem like a “meretricious headline,” writes Adam Crisafulli, founder of Vital Knowledge, in a note on Friday. He says January 15 still remains “the most likely date” for a signing, but that what really matters for stocks is the underlying text of the phase one deal, which is “shaping up to underwhelm.”
- The main question that many on Wall Street are waiting to find out is whether the specific details of the agreement will actually get released to the public: “It still isn’t clear what Trump and Liu He will affix their signatures to,” says Crisafulli.
- What’s more, doubts have emerged over a crucial part of the phase one deal—China boosting its purchases of U.S. agriculture—as analysts are skeptical that China will actually reach the called-for $50 billion figure.
Key background: The phase one trade pact between the U.S. and China that was agreed upon last month is expected to reduce existing tariffs and increase Chinese purchases of American agricultural products. Other promised purchases include energy and manufactured goods, while the deal will also address some disputes over intellectual property. The stock market rallied to new all-time highs after Trump confirmed the phase one agreement with China—crucially averting a December 15 tariff deadline that was looming.
A critical part of the deal is the increased Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products—a number which Trump has put at $50 billion. But China has yet to confirm that figure or even how it would boost purchases. China’s vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs earlier this week even said that China would keep grain import quotas unchanged, despite the promise to buy more American farm products.
What to watch for: Though the phase one deal with China is scheduled to be signed next week, Trump said he could now wait until after the 2020 election to reach a phase two agreement. “I think I might want to wait to finish ’til after the election, because by doing that, I think we can actually make a little bit better deal, maybe a lot better deal,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.