President Donald Trump cast doubt Thursday on whether the United States and China can reach a comprehensive trade agreement in time to keep a steep tariff increase from kicking in against Beijing in March.
Trump also said a final deal probably won't be finalized until he and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet again. Trump did not say when such a meeting would happen.
Trump answered with "I don't know" when asked whether the March deadline can be met. He said China wants a deal to prevent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from jumping from 10 percent to 25 percent on March 2.
"So they would like to do it and I'd like to accommodate them. If we can, I'd like to accommodate China if we can get the deal done," Trump said from the Oval Office. "It's a lot of work because this is a very comprehensive deal."
U.S. and Chinese negotiators opened two days of high-level talks in Washington on Wednesday aimed at settling a trade war that has weakened both economies, shaken financial markets and clouded the outlook for global trade. Trump was meeting on Thursday afternoon with the Chinese negotiators.
Asked whether the talks would be extended into March or beyond, Trump said: "I think we can do it by March."
The president said the deal he wants will either be "a very big deal" or "it's going to be a deal that we'll just postpone for a little while."
Trump had tweeted earlier Thursday that a final deal would not be made until he and Xi meet in the "near future."
"I think that probably the final deal will be made, if it's made, …between myself and President Xi," he said at a White House event to promote American manufacturing.
Analysts doubt that the world's two biggest economies can reach any comprehensive deal over the next month. The United States is essentially demanding that China downsize its economic aspirations to become a global leader in such fields as robotics and electric cars.
The American delegation is led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a longtime critic of aggressive Chinese trade practices and of U.S. policies that failed to blunt them.
The core of the U.S. allegations against China is that Beijing systematically steals trade secrets, forces foreign companies to hand over technology as the price of access to the Chinese market and unfairly subsidizes its own tech companies.