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As tough talk on trade proceeds, investors listen closely

U.S. and Chinese delegations meet in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, during continuing meetings on the U.S.-China bilateral trade relationship on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Washington. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, third from right, sits across the table from the U.S. delegation including the president’s Assistant for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow, third from left; Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin; U.S. Trade Representative Amb. Robert Lighthizer; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, seventh from left; and the president’s Assistant for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro.
U.S. and Chinese delegations meet in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, during continuing meetings on the U.S.-China bilateral trade relationship on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Washington. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, third from right, sits across the table from the U.S. delegation including the president’s Assistant for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow, third from left; Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin; U.S. Trade Representative Amb. Robert Lighthizer; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, seventh from left; and the president’s Assistant for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro. AP

Just days before President Donald Trump’s self-imposed deadline for China to avoid another round of import taxes on $200 million worth of goods, the administration’s top trade talker will speak with a Congressional committee.

On Wednesday in the week ahead, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is scheduled to testify to the House Ways and Means Committee. Lighthizer was in Beijing about a week ago leading the American trade negotiators in their talks with Chinese officials. There were low-level talks in early January, and a two-day round of negotiations in Washington. The February Beijing talks represented the highest-level talks ahead of the looming March 2 deadline.

Or maybe it doesn’t loom after all.

Last week, President Donald Trump declared the deadline “not a magical date.”

The U.S. slapped 10 percent taxes on billions of dollars of Chinese imports into America. China responded with it’s own taxes on U.S.A. made goods. In December, Trump postponed hiking the American tariffs to 25 percent until March 1.

While not entirely attributable to the trade war, economic confidence in both countries has wavered over the past year of the trade war.

What progress is being made toward a deal? What does a deal look like for the U.S.? Would a deal roll back previous tariffs? How would an agreement protect American know-how in China? Should the Chinese be required to keep the value of their currency stable, offsetting efforts to undercut U.S. taxes? If there’s hope for a comprehensive trade pact, how will future differences be worked out so as not to reignite a tax-for-tax trade war?

Congress may be the ones asking these questions of the U.S. trade chief, but investors will be closely listening.

Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM, where he is the vice president of news. Twitter: @HudsonsView.

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