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Trump, Xi Talk Trade Over Dinner in Argentina


President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping lead their respective delegations during their bilateral meeting at the G-20 Summit, Dec. 1, 2018, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, over a Buenos Aires dinner of grilled sirloin steak, discussed their vast differences on trade that have led in past months to exchanges of significant retaliatory tariffs between the world's two largest economies.

Trump, sitting across from Xi at a long banquet table, described their relationship as "incredible" and predicted that would mean "we'll probably end up getting something that's good for China and good for the United States."

In his remarks, the Chinese president noted, "It's been a long time since our previous meeting and a lot of things have taken place."

Xi added, “Only with cooperation between us can we serve the interest of world peace and prosperity.”

The meal, which was moved up an hour earlier than its original start time following the conclusion of the G-20 leaders' meeting here, included a group of top officials from both sides.

Among those at the table for the United States was trade policy advisor Peter Navarro, seen as the most hawkish member of Trump's team on economic issues with China. The other key attendees for the U.S., according to the White House, were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, national security adviser John Bolton, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Larry Kudlow, assistant to the president for economic policy.

"Everyone has high expectations" for the dinner to reduce fears of an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, G-20 host Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina, earlier told reporters.

The two-and-a-half hour dinner meeting “went very well,” Kudlow said as he boarded Air Force One for the departure from Argentina.

Many major business leaders in the United States and China also were hoping for some sort of truce or partial deal in what has been seen as an escalating trade dispute between the world's two largest economies.

Despite months of complaints by the United States and the U.S. imposition of tariffs on about $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, Beijing "has not fundamentally alerted its unfair, unreasonable and market-distorting practices," according to a report issued by Lighthizer.

Observers fear that if no progress is made at the Trump-Xi dinner, then the U.S. president will make good on his threat to double the amount of Chinese goods facing punitive taxes and escalate tariffs to a 25 percent level at the start of the new year.

China, in response, is threatening to impose taxes on an additional 5,000 types of American imports worth about $60 billion.

"I think the worst of it is that the conflict between China and the U.S. is again showing the limits of multilateral institutions, in particular the World Trade Organization," Roberto Bouzas, an international relations and economics professor at the Universidad de San Andres in suburban Buenos Aires, told VOA.

In its communique on Saturday at the conclusion of the leaders' summit, the G-20 called for reform of the WTO to improve its functioning, as well as a review of the trade organization’s progress at next year's summit in Japan.

"For the first time ever, the G-20 recognized the WTO is currently falling short of meeting its objectives and that it's in need of reform," a U.S. official, speaking on condition of not being named, told reporters.

"We'll see what reactions we get in the next few months" to the WTO reform call in the communique, Macri told reporters, adding, "There is clearly a need for dispute mechanisms that are more agile."

Earlier in the day, Trump canceled a planned news conference, saying the timing was not right because of the death of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush at age 94.

"He was a terrific guy and he'll be missed. He lived a full life and an exemplary life," Trump said of the late president. He did not respond to a reporter's question about whether he regretted his past criticism of the 41st president, and his son, George W. Bush, who was the 43rd president.

"The fact that we lost a president really puts a damper on it," Trump said of Saturday evening's dinner.

At the table, Trump announced his plane, Air Force One, would fly to Houston, Texas, after returning from Argentina to transport Bush's casket to Washington, D.C.

During the meal, Xi also expressed sympathies for the passing of the former president, saying Bush, who also was once the U.S. envoy to China, had "made many contributions to U.S.-China friendship." ​

Bill Gallo contributed to this report.