White House

Trump has no China trade pact, but he does have a signing location in mind

2020 battleground state of Iowa is president’s preferred spot

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa has raised concerns about a possible trade pact with China. President Donald Trump might sign it with Xi Jinping in his home state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump gave no indication Friday he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are closer to signing a “Phase One” trade pact, but he does have a place in mind where a signing event for it could happen — a battleground state that has borne the brunt of the U.S.-China trade war.

“It could even be in Iowa,” he told reporters on the White House South Lawn as he departed for a campaign rally in Mississippi. “I would do it in the U.S. He would too,” he added, speaking for Xi.

Trump contended that Iowa is a “possibility” because the deal would be a windfall for farmers. As the president has escalated the trade conflict with China, Iowa has seen a drop-off in exports there of two of its biggest sources of income: pork and soybeans. 

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Public polling suggests, Iowa is in play in the 2020 presidential race. A recent Emerson College survey, for instance, found Trump running close with former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in hypothetical head-to-head matchups.

Floating the idea of holding a signing ceremony in the Hawkeye State would also be a nod to Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, the state’s senior Republican senator, who has raised concerns about the trade war’s impact on Iowa farmers.

Grassley has said any deal with Beijing “must address the full scope of structural issues identified in [the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s] Section 301 report and include strong enforcement mechanisms.”

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Trump and Xi had been aiming to put their signatures on the Phase One pact at an economic summit later this month in Chile. But the summit was scrapped due to political protests in the country.

Trump had long shunned an incremental deal that failed to meet his every demand of Beijing, but last month, he suddenly relented. He called the Phase One deal “substantial,” noting there might be as many as two more phases.

The White House says the pact it has been pursuing for years with the Chinese would not require congressional approval the way a revised deal with Mexico and Canada would. Still, Phase One — or what lawmakers have been able to glean of it — has been met with some skepticism on Capitol Hill, including by some of Trump’s usually close allies.

“There’s no deal with China,” Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott said dismissively five days after Trump announced the Phase One deal, offering a rare GOP break with the president.

“They don’t ever comply with anything,” the Commerce Committee member told Fox News, suggesting China’s latest vow to buy more U.S. farm products already is showing signs of unraveling. “They are not our friend.”

Analysts also have suggested the mini-deal fails to make the long-sought comprehensive agreement move likely.

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