US official optimistic about reaching deal with China

China is the world’s largest producer of tea, another item among a number of products likely to get hit by the trade war. (AFP)
Updated 24 November 2019

US official optimistic about reaching deal with China

  • Beijing is pressing Washington for more extensive tariff rollbacks

HALIFAX: US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Saturday that an initial trade agreement with China is still possible by the end of the year, but warned Washington would not turn a blind eye to what happens in Hong Kong.

The comments add to growing worries that a Chinese crackdown on anti-government protests in Hong Kong could further complicate the efforts by the US and China to end a prolonged trade war that has roiled global markets and undercut global economic growth forecasts.

“We were hoping to have (a phase one) deal done by the end of the year. I still think that’s possible,” O’Brien told reporters at a security conference in Halifax.

“At the same time, we’re not going to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Hong Kong or what’s happening in the South China Sea, or other areas of the world where we’re concerned about China’s activity,” he said.

He said that he hoped district elections in Hong Kong would proceed without violence. “That would be a good sign,” he said.

President Donald Trump on Friday said he had told Chinese President Xi Jinping that crushing the Hong Kong protesters would have “a tremendous negative impact” on efforts to reach an accord to end a 16-month trade war.

He has been vague about whether he would sign or veto US legislation to back protesters in Hong Kong, and boasted that he alone had prevented Beijing from crushing the demonstrations with a million soldiers.

O’Brien said he had not spoken to Trump on Saturday about his decision on whether to sign the Hong Kong human rights bill and did not know what he would do, but noted that the president had until early December to decide. The legislation will automatically become law on Dec. 3 if Trump opts to do nothing.

“I think the bill passed with a pretty significant majority, so I’m sure that’s something the president is taking into consideration,” O’Brien said.

Asked what would be the reaction of the US if China cracked down hard on the protests, O’Brien said on Saturday: “I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. We’ve already seen too much violence in Hong Kong.”

“The real question is what is the world prepared to do about China if there is that sort of a crackdown? The United States will do its part,” he said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said in October that US and Chinese trade negotiators were working on nailing down a “phase one” trade deal text for their presidents to sign in November.

But the deal’s completion could slide into next year, trade experts and people close to the White House said this week, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks, and Washington counters with heightened demands of its own.


Saudi Arabia calls ‘urgent’ meeting of oil producers

Updated 02 April 2020

Saudi Arabia calls ‘urgent’ meeting of oil producers

  • Crude prices jump after move, which Kingdom says is part of efforts ‘to support global economy in these exceptional circumstances’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has called an urgent meeting of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries and other oil exporters, to discuss restoring the “desired balance” in global energy markets.

The move — which prompted a big jump in the price of oil on global markets — is part of the Kingdom’s “constant efforts to support the global economy in these exceptional circumstances, and in appreciation of the request of the President of the USA, Donald Trump, and the request of friends in the USA,” according to a statement published by the official Saudi news agency.

Global oil prices reacted immediately. Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, increased by 20 percent, taking it back above $30 a barrel.

The price of crude has been under pressure as a result of collapsing demand due to the coronavirus crisis, and Saudi Arabia’s determination to win market share from American and Russian producers.

During an OPEC meeting in Vienna last month, the Kingdom offered to implement further cuts in oil production but Russia refused to participate.

“Saudi Arabia would like to underscore its efforts during the past period to restore balance in the oil market, as it drew support for that from 22 counties of the OPEC+, but it was not possible to reach an agreement or get consensus,” according to the official Saudi statement.

Oil industry expert Daniel Yergin said: “This represents a recognition of how much the world has changed for oil in a single month as demand falls away so dramatically, and the impact of Donald Trump becoming personally engaged.”

The Saudi call for talks came after a hectic round of communications between the US, Russia and the Kingdom.

In a message posted on Twitter after the Saudi announcement, Trump wrote: “I just spoke to my friend Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who spoke with President Putin and I expect and hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10m barrels, and maybe substantially more, which will be great for the oil and gas industry.”

However, officials in Riyadh downplayed any suggestion of a commitment to specific reductions in the levels of oil output. There is no indication yet of when the “urgent” meeting of OPEC and others might happen, nor what will be on the agenda, they said.

President Vladimir Putin denied that he had spoken to the crown prince about the price of oil. Novosti, the official Russian news agency, said there was no such conversation, but added that the president had discussed falling oil prices with other OPEC members and with the US.

“The Americans are worried because of their profitability for shale oil production,” said Putin. “This is also a difficult test for the American economy.”

This week, Saudi Arabia produced more oil in a single day than at any time in its history, with 12 million barrels flowing from pumps at Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company.