Trump to Putin: Please don’t meddle in U.S. elections

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump talk during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Roberta Rampton

OSAKA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday sardonically asked his Russian counterpart to please not meddle in U.S. elections, appearing to make light of a scandal that led to an investigation of his campaign’s contact with the Kremlin during 2016 elections.

A two-year investigation into a Moscow-run influence campaign during the election has hung over Trump’s presidency, frustrating the Republican president who has said he seeks better relations with Russia.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were speaking to reporters in Osaka, Japan, ahead of their first formal face-to-face meeting since a controversial high-profile summit in Helsinki last July.

Asked by reporters whether he would raise the issue during their meeting, held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit, Trump said: “Yes, of course I will,” drawing a laugh from Putin.

Trump then turned to Putin to give the directive twice, as he pointed a finger at the Russian leader.

“Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said.

Trump’s critics have accused him of being too friendly with Putin and castigated him for failing to publicly confront the Russian leader in Helsinki after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian operatives had hacked into Democratic Party computers and used fake social media accounts to attack his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

A U.S. special counsel, Robert Mueller, spent two years investigating whether there were any ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Mueller found that Russia did meddle in the election but found no evidence that the Trump campaign illegally conspired with it to influence the vote.

‘POSITIVE THINGS’

Relations between the two countries have been sour for years, worsening after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.

In a recent television interview, Putin said that relations between Moscow and Washington were “getting worse and worse.”

Trump has sought to turn the page to work with Putin on issues such as reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. On Friday, he emphasized the positive.

“It’s a great honor to be with President Putin,” he told reporters. “We have many things to discuss, including trade and including some disarmament.”

Trump and Putin had been scheduled to meet at the end of November at the last G20 in Buenos Aires, but Trump canceled the meeting as he flew to Argentina, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian navy ships and sailors. The two spoke informally at the event, and at a lunch in Paris earlier that month.

In May, they had their first extensive phone conversation in months. Trump said they talked about a new accord to limit nuclear arms that could eventually include China.

“We’ve had great meetings. We’ve had a very, very good relationship,” Trump said on Friday. “And we look forward to spending some very good time together. A lot of very positive things going to come out of the relationship.”

In a further attempt to lighten the mood, Trump sought common ground with Putin at the expense of the journalists gathered to catch the leaders at the outset of their meeting.

“Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do,” Trump said.

To which Putin responded, in English: “We also have. It’s the same.”

(Additional reporting Maria Vasilyeva in MOSCOW; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Trump prepares for ‘productive’ talks with Xi on trade war

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is flanked by U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Roberta Rampton

OSAKA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he hoped for productive talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a trade war that is casting a shadow on global growth, but said he had not made any promises about a reprieve from escalating tariffs.

The trade feud and signs of a global slowdown have loomed over a two-day Group of 20 (G20) summit in the Japanese city of Osaka, where Trump and Xi met in passing and prepared for one-on-one talks on Saturday.

To lay the groundwork, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He met Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, a source familiar with the talks said.

Expectations have dimmed that the world’s two biggest economies can ease tension when Trump and Xi meet.

“At a minimum it will be productive. We’ll see what happens and what comes out of it,” Trump told reporters after a series of meetings with leaders where he made clear that his priority was two-way trade deals to boost the U.S. economy.

Asked, however, if he had promised Xi a six-month reprieve on imposing new tariffs on a $300 billion list of Chinese imports, Trump said: “No.”

Trump has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports and is threatening to extend those to another $300 billion of goods, effectively everything China exports to the United States. China has retaliated with tariffs on U.S. imports.

Asian shares stumbled and gold slipped on Friday, as doubts grew that the highly anticipated meeting between the two leaders would bring progress.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he hoped the U.S. side could meet China halfway.

“This accords with the interests of both countries and is what the international community is hoping for,” he told a news briefing.

China has consistently pushed back against criticism from Western countries, especially the United States and European Union, about things like intellectual property rights and the difficulty of doing business in China.

“China’s promise to expand its opening up is not just a cheque that can’t be cashed,” Xi told German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a side meeting in Osaka.

THREAT TO GLOBAL GROWTH

Trump’s administration also has trade feuds with India, Japan and Germany, whose leaders he met on Friday.

Trump said he saw U.S. trade prospects improving, days after criticizing the U.S.-Japan security treaty and demanding that India withdraw retaliatory tariffs.

“I think we’re going to have some very big things to announce. Very big trade deal,” Trump said before he began talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He gave no details.

A White House official said the two leaders had called on their teams to work on mutually beneficial trade solutions.

Trump also made a push to discuss U.S. concerns about Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei.

The United States has pressed its allies to shun Huawei in their fifth generation, or 5G, networks on security grounds, and it has also suggested it could be a factor in a trade deal with Xi.

“We actually sell Huawei many of its parts,” Trump said at his meeting with Modi. “So we’re going to be discussing that and also how India fits in. And we’ll be discussing Huawei.”

Several leaders warned that the growing Sino-U.S. trade friction was threatening global growth.

“The trade relations between China and the United States are difficult, they are contributing to the slowdown of the global economy,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference.

Xi also warned about the protectionist steps he said some developed countries were taking.

“All this is destroying the global trade order … This also impacts common interests of our countries, overshadows peace and stability worldwide,” Xi told a gathering of leaders of the BRICS grouping on the sidelines of the G20.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, other leaders and delegates attend a family photo session at G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, other leaders and delegates attend a family photo session at G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool

REFORMING WORLD TRADE RULES

Modi, at the same meeting, called for a focus on reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Russian President Vladimir Putin decried what he called efforts to destroy the Geneva-based body.

“We consider counter-productive any attempts to destroy WTO or to lower its role,” Putin said.

The situation of the global economy was worrying, as trade felt the effect of “protectionism (and) politically motivated restrictions”, he added.

Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said there was no agreement on how to reform the WTO system, whose rules Washington believes are outdated, though a Japanese official said G20 members agreed on the importance of reform.

The G20 leaders were also struggling to find common ground on issues such as information security, climate change and migration, said Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official helping to coordinate the meetings.

A White House official took a more positive view, saying there was a “good sense of unity in the room” between most leaders on working together on economic issues.

“China was less positive in its outlook which was in stark contrast to basically everybody else,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump, who often castigates trading partners on Twitter and at raucous political rallies, put a positive spin on trade developments.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re sending many automobile companies into Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and North Carolina,” Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had presented him with a map showing the locations of Japanese auto investments in the United States.

Abe urged G20 leaders to send a strong message in support of free and fair trade, warning that trade and geopolitical tensions were rising and downside risks to the global economy prevailed. He also said he wanted to see momentum toward WTO reform.

Japanese and U.S. officials will meet next month to accelerate progress toward a trade deal, Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after meeting Lighthizer, but added that they did not discuss a target date.

(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Katya Golubkova; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Fresh protests hit Hong Kong as activists seek voice at G20

Demonstrators protest outside police headquarters, demanding Hong Kong's leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Si

By Jessie Pang and Vivam Tong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Protesters in Hong Kong blocked roads and forced workers to leave the justice secretary’s offices on Thursday in the latest unrest to rock the city over an extradition bill that has now been suspended.

Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped altogether.

“You know what everybody has deep in their hearts – is that this is about our future and it’s very very personal,” said 53-year-old Brian Kern, who was attending the protests.

In sweltering heat of 32 degrees C (89.6F), some protesters chanted, “Withdraw evil law, release martyrs…Teresa Cheng, come out,” referring to the justice secretary. Others shouted, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”

Police formed a cordon to block the demonstrators and one officer held a banner warning them away. Minor scuffles broke out between pro-democracy group Demosisto and officers.

“Fight for Justice”, “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now” were some of the demands emblazoned on protest banners.

Police chief Stephen Lo warned of consequences for outbreaks of violence and condemned what he said was an environment of hostility making his officers’ task difficult.

BATON CHARGE

In the early hours, riot police wielding batons and shields chased dozens of protesters as they broke up a siege of police headquarters. By nightfall on Thursday, only around 200 protesters remained. Black-clad and masked, they sat peacefully outside government headquarters.

The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.

“We know that the G20 is coming. We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theater technician who took a day off work to protest.

Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial center grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile since her latest public apology over a week ago, bowed to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests but stopped short of canceling the measure outright and rejected repeated calls to step down.

Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.

The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.

But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.

LAM VOICES SUPPORT FOR POLICE

ay, a Hong Kong government statement said Lam had met senior police officers to express thanks for their dedication during the protests and gave them her full support to maintain law and order in the city.

“She said she understands that members of the force and their family members have been put under pressure and that a small number of people even provoked the police intentionally, which is not acceptable,” the statement said.

Lam also met representatives in the education and religious sectors, senior civil servants as well as foreign consuls to exchange views on the “current social situation,” it said.

(Reporting By Vimvam Tong, Jessie Pang, Delfina Wentzel, Donny Kwok and Noah Sin; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Mark Hienrich)

U.S. aims to restart China trade talks, will not accept conditions on tariff use

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes to re-launch trade talks with China after President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping meet in Japan on Saturday, but Washington will not accept any conditions around the U.S. use of tariffs in the dispute, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, covering nearly all the remaining Chinese imports into the United States – including consumer products such as cellphones, computers and clothing – if the meeting with Xi produces no progress in resolving a host of U.S. complaints around the way China does business.

The two sides could agree not to impose new tariffs as a goodwill gesture to get negotiations going, the official said, but he said it was unclear if that would happen.

The United States was not willing to come to the Xi meeting with concessions, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Washington wants Beijing to come back the table with the promises it withdrew before talks broke down, he said.

China has shown no softening in its position and said on Monday that both sides should make compromises in the trade talks and that a trade deal has to be beneficial for both countries.

The back-and-forth set up what could prove to be a tricky meeting between Trump and Xi at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka. The session will be the first time they have met since trade talks between the world’s two largest economies broke down in May, when the United States accused China of reneging on reform pledges it made.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has led trade talks for Beijing, held a phone conversation with his counterparts, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on Monday, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. The three men are helping to pave the way for talks between the leaders later this week.

Expectations for that meeting so far appear to be low. The best-case scenario would be a resumption of official talks, which could ease fears in financial markets that the already long trade dispute might continue indefinitely. The fears have pummeled global markets and hurt the world economy.

Trump advisers have said no trade deal is expected at the meeting but they hope to create a path forward for talks. Once negotiations resume, they could take months or even years to complete, the senior Trump administration official said, with some parts agreed early and others needing more time.

A resumption of negotiations could put that threat of further tariffs on hold, at least for now.

But if Trump sees no progress and decides to raise tariffs, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies would deteriorate further.

“I think if they go with the tariffs, the trade talks are dead. Period,” said one person familiar with the talks.

The United States has made clear it wants China to go back to the position it held in a draft trade agreement that was nearly completed before Beijing balked at some of its terms, particularly requirements to change its laws on key issues.

Beijing wants the United States to lift tariffs, while Washington wants China to change a series of practices including on intellectual property and requirements that U.S. companies share their technology with Chinese companies in order to do business there.

As part of the trade war, Washington has already imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, ranging from semi-conductors to furniture, that are imported to the United States.

PRESSURE BUILDING

The president has spoken optimistically about the chances of a deal.

The administration official said rounds of meetings between top trade officials from both countries likely would begin again after the G20 summit. He noted that although the vice premier still led China’s trade delegation, new names had been added to the list who could be hard-liners.

The official said Trump and Xi were unlikely to get into the fine details of the draft trade pact, although the case of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co may come up during talks.

Pressure on Huawei, which the U.S. government has labeled a security threat, has increased in recent days.

About a dozen rural U.S. telecom carriers that depend on Huawei for network gear are in discussions with its biggest rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, to replace their Chinese equipment, sources familiar with the matter said.

And the U.S.-based research arm of Huawei, Futurewei Technologies Inc, has moved to separate its operations from its corporate parent since the U.S government in May put Huawei on a trade blacklist, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump has indicated a willingness to include the Huawei issue in a trade deal, despite the national security implications cited by his advisers about the company. Meanwhile, U.S. parcel delivery firm FedEx Corp on Monday sued the U.S. government, saying it should not be held liable if it inadvertently shipped products that violated a Trump administration ban on exports to some Chinese companies.

The move came after FedEx reignited Chinese ire over its business practices when a package containing a Huawei phone sent to the United States was returned last week to its sender in Britain, in what FedEx said was an “operational error.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Jane Lanhee Lee, Tarmo Vikri, Andrew Galbraith and Angela Moon; editing by Simon Webb and Cynthia Osterman)

Putin: ready for Trump talks but U.S. elections could complicate ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual nationwide televised phone-in show in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he was ready to hold talks with Donald Trump if that was what his U.S. counterpart wanted, but added that Trump’s re-election campaign could complicate U.S.-Russia relations.

Trump has said he expects to meet Putin at a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, next week, though Moscow has so far said it has yet to receive a formal invitation for such talks.

U.S.-Russia ties remain strained by everything from Syria to Ukraine and Venezuela, as well as by allegations of Russian interference in U.S. politics, which Moscow denies.

Putin said this month that relations between Moscow and Washington were getting worse and worse.

“Dialogue is always good, there’s always demand for it,” said Putin during his annual question-and-answer session when quizzed about talks with Trump.

“Sure, if the American side shows interest … we are ready for dialogue.”

The Russian leader said the two countries had a lot to talk about, including strategic nuclear stability. A landmark arms control treaty is coming up for renewal, while both sides have said they are quitting the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, stoking fears of a wider arms race.

Putin said Trump’s drive to win another presidential term might complicate the situation, however.

“We all understand and see what is going on in domestic politics in the United States,” said Putin. “Even if the president wants to take steps toward us, wants to talk about anything, there are a huge number of limitations.

“Even more so now as the current head of state will make all his statements with his election campaign in mind. He has already started the campaign, so everything will not be simple in our relations,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said talks, if they took place, could help re-establish what he called normal relations between Russia and the United States, including on the economy. He also said he wanted the two countries to talks about cyber security.

(Additional reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya, Tom Balmforth, Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Moscow Bureau; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Trump-Xi trade armistice clears way for more market gains

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Jonathan Spicer and Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of the darkest clouds hanging over Wall Street somewhat dissipated on the weekend when China and the United States agreed to shelve any new tariffs and reset discussions, at least temporarily halting an increase in their tensions over trade.

Investors said the agreement, lasting 90 days, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit, spelled a reprieve for stocks and could pave the way for a positive bookend to a volatile trading year.

U.S. stock index futures jumped as trading for the week began late on Sunday, with benchmark S&P 500 e-mini futures up 1.55 percent. Treasury futures were soft, suggesting an appetite for risk-taking could extend last week’s gains in the stock market.

The trade tension between Washington and Beijing, along with an uncertain outlook for U.S. rate hikes, have for months dogged prospects for equities. The U.S. pledge not to boost tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods could mark the most important deal in years between the world’s top two economies.

“It sets a pretty positive tone (and) stocks should have a decent rally into December,” said Nathan Thooft, Boston-based global head of asset allocation for Manulife Asset Management.

Thooft said he believed the Trump administration was using a threat to raise tariffs to 25 percent on Jan. 1, from 10 percent now as a negotiating tactic. “So when you start to see evidence that there is the ability to come to some type of agreement, that has to be viewed as a positive,” he said.

The stock market logged an official correction after a selloff in October and continued volatility in November that, just over a week ago, had left the benchmark S&P 500  stock index down 10 percent from its all-time high.

Markets rebounded last week on comments perceived as dovish from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, though the S&P was up only 2.4 percent in 2018.

The latest trade standoff began in September when the United States imposed the 10-percent tariffs, prompting China to respond with its own. Ahead of the leaders’ dinner in Argentina, investors had been bracing for a range of outcomes including a worse-case end to talks and more tit-for-tat measures that would have continued to crimp economic and corporate profit growth.

Instead, the Americans and Chinese officially lauded the result.

Beijing agreed to buy what the White House called a “very substantial” amount of agriculture, energy, industrial and other products. While the clock ticks on the 90-day tariff reprieve, the two sides will try to work out thorny issues including technology transfer, intellectual property and cyber theft.

“It’s not solved by any stretch of the imagination,” said Thooft. But risk assets and cyclical U.S. sectors like materials and industrials should benefit, he said on Sunday.

An initial jump late on Sunday of nearly 2 percent in Nasdaq 100 e-mini futures suggested that technology companies, many of which were hardest hit in the selloff, could rebound.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said he was encouraged by the trade talks and warned that raising tariffs to 25 percent as the White House had threatened “would likely hurt consumers, put several American companies out of business and displace thousands of American workers.”

POWELL TESTIMONY

Energy prices could also rebound on Monday since cooling trade tensions could boost the world economy and spur demand.

Oil prices had dropped from a four-year high of about $76 per barrel in early October to just above $50 on Friday. But U.S. crude oil was up 2.7 percent to $52.37 a barrel as of 6:07 p.m. EST (2307 GMT) on Sunday.

Aside from trade policy, Wall Street’s attention has also been trained on Fed policy.

Powell was scheduled to testify on Wednesday to a congressional Joint Economic Committee. But the hearing is expected to be postponed to Thursday because major exchanges will be closed on Wednesday in honor of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday at the age of 94.

Last week, Powell backed the Fed’s gradual tightening but said its policy rate was “just below” a range of estimates of the so-called neutral level that neither stimulates nor cools growth. In response, stocks shot up and largely recovered November’s earlier losses.

In the wake of Powell’s speech, Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, said: “what happens in Buenos Aires will determine if stocks post a positive 2018.”

The specter of a global trade war has hovered over the market since March when Trump announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. He also recently said the United States was studying auto tariffs, which could ripple through Europe and Japan, while a pact with Canada and Mexico left some investors heartened about potential progress with China.

Nancy Lazar, economist at research firm Cornerstone Macro, said in a note that the 90-day tariff delay and China’s “incremental concessions” are good news.

“But given the stern U.S. stance, we’re certainly not raising our outlook,” she said of a 2.8-percent growth estimate for the fourth quarter, still comfortably above potential.

With U.S. corporate leaders increasingly voicing concerns over rising costs associated with tariffs, Wall Street appeared set on Monday to welcome any development that eases those pressures.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler)

Trump-Xi meet, a turning point in global trade war?

FILE PHOTOS: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) holds a rally with supporters in Council Bluffs, Iowa, September 28, 2016 and Chinese President Xi Jinping waits for leaders to arrive at a summit in Shanghai May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Aly Song/File Photos

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Will U.S. President Donald Trump’s much-heralded meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Argentina on Saturday lead to an easing of the Sino-U.S. trade conflict?

That has been the main question of financial and commodity markets leading up to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The answer is likely to steer investors at the start of the coming week.

Signals leading up to the meeting were at best mixed.

“I think we’re very close to doing something with China, but I don’t know that I want to do it,” Trump said as he set out on his journey from the White House.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said any deal was unlikely to be a comprehensive solution to the impasse due to “diverging demands and agendas”.

Economists at UBS expressed hope that a positive message could at least emerge, with a path towards resolution sometime next year, but that recent U.S. actions and statements had tempered their optimism.

ING was downbeat on a breakthrough coming soon, adding that two sides remained far apart on the extent to which China’s trade surplus with the United States could be reduced.

ING Bank forecasts that global trade growth will slow from 2.6 percent this year to 1.3 percent in 2019, the weakest rate since 2009, when the global financial crisis was at its height.

The estimate is based on an intensified U.S.-China trade war in which Washington increases tariffs on $200 billion of products to 25 percent in January from 10 percent now and then targets the $267 billion of Chinese exports not already subject to measures.

Without that, global trade growth could be unchanged at 2.6 percent. However, if Trump also decides to hike import duties on cars, that growth would slump to 0.5 percent next year, ING says.

Trump has threatened for months to impose auto tariffs, notably those made in Europe, although he has pledged to refrain from doing so for the European Union and Japan as long as it makes constructive progress in trade talks with the pair.

However, Trump reignited speculation on Wednesday by saying new auto tariffs were “being studied” and asserting they could prevent jobs cuts such as the layoffs and plant closures announced by General Motors Co.

Economists at Citi believe any tariffs would apply to finished vehicles but not to auto parts and the principal question is not if, but when, they will be unveiled.

As speculation has intensified, top executives from German carmakers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, previous targets of Trump’s criticism, are set to visit the White House next week.

OPEC CUTS, U.S. JOBS SPIKE?

Once markets have absorbed the fruits of the Trump-Xi exchange, investors may shift focus to at least two events at the end of the week.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies meet on Dec. 6-7 and are expected to discuss a possible production cut. Oil prices have fallen by more than 20 percent in November, to make it the biggest monthly drop in a decade.

The United States will also report its widely watched monthly jobs report on Friday.

Economists polled by Reuters forecast that the unemployment rate will hold at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent and that year-on-year wage growth will also match the 3.1 percent of October, itself a nine-and-a-half-year high.

The figures, if confirmed, should make it a near-certainty that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates for a fourth time this year at its Dec. 18-19 meeting, even as its chairman Jerome Powell signals a more cautious approach on future rate hikes next year.

“While sentiment may be a bit gloomy after the fallout from G20 meeting the more positive tone to the U.S. macro story could improve spirits as we move through the week,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

U.S.-China dispute casts shadow as world leaders gather in Argentina

U.S. President Donald Trump and Argentina's President Mauricio Macri meet before the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Scott Squires and Daniel Flynn

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The leaders of the world’s top economies gathered in Argentina on Friday for talks overshadowed by a U.S.-China trade war that has roiled global markets, bracing for the kind of geopolitical drama U.S. President Donald Trump often brings to the international stage.

The two-day annual gathering will be a major test for the Group of 20 industrialized nations, whose leaders first met in 2008 to help rescue the global economy from the worst financial crisis in seven decades. With a rise in nationalist sentiment in many countries, the group faces questions over its ability to deal with the latest round of crises.

Overhanging the summit in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, is a trade dispute between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which have imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s imports.

All eyes will be on a planned dinner between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday to see whether they can make progress toward resolving differences threatening the global economy.

Beijing hopes to persuade Trump to abandon plans to hike tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 percent in January, from 10 percent at present.

“We hope the U.S. can show sincerity and meet China halfway, to promote a proposal that both countries can accept,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a briefing in Beijing.

Speaking in Buenos Aires, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he would be surprised if the dinner was not a success, but it would depend entirely on the two presidents.

On the eve of the summit, G20 member nations were still trying to reach agreement on major issues including trade, migration and climate change that in past years have been worked out well in advance.

Trump’s skepticism that global warming is caused by human activity has raised questions about whether the countries will be able to reach enough consensus on climate change to include it in the summit’s final communique.

Earlier this month, officials from countries attending a major Asia-Pacific summit failed to issue a joint statement for the first time after the U.S. delegation clashed with China over trade and security.

However, delegates to the talks in Buenos Aires said good progress had been made on economic sections of the statement overnight. Argentina’s presidency voiced optimism consensus would be reached on a draft.

“As this is a difficult moment for international cooperation, I would like to appeal to the leaders to use this summit … to seriously discuss real issues such as trade wars, the tragic situation in Syria and Yemen and the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” European Council President Donald Tusk told a news conference in Buenos Aires.

Highlighting the deep rifts within the G20, Tusk said the European Union would extend its economic sanctions on Moscow next month, after Russian ships fired on Ukrainian ones in the Sea of Azov last week, seizing the boats and sailors.

Trump cited Russia’s seizure of the ships as the reason he canceled a planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they had been expected to discuss the U.S. leader’s threat to withdraw from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

However, Moscow said U.S. domestic politics may have been the real reason behind the cancellation after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow.

The presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the summit also raised an awkward dilemma for leaders. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler arrived under swirling controversy over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would be robust when she talks to Prince Mohammed, urging him to hold a full and credible investigation into Khashoggi’s killing and hold those responsible to account.

TRUMP AND TRADE

Uncertainty prevailed about how Trump, known for his unpredictability, would behave at what was shaping up as one of the group’s most consequential summits.

Trump rejected a statement by fellow leaders of the G7 industrialized economies at a summit in May after a tense gathering ended in acrimony, again over tariffs and trade.

Before heading for Buenos Aires on Thursday, Trump said he was open to a trade deal with China, but added, “I don’t know that I want to do it.”

Global financial markets will take their lead on Monday from the outcome of the Xi-Trump meeting, having seesawed in recent days on concerns trade tensions could escalate.

Oil markets will also be closely watching a bilateral meeting between Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed on Saturday afternoon for any sign of a breakthrough in a deal for Russia to participate in a production cut by the OPEC oil cartel next month.

In another bilateral meeting on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss the Renault-Nissan alliance’s future with Japanese Prime minister Shinzo Abe, seeking to defuse a brewing diplomatic row over the balance of power inside the partnership.

NEW-LOOK NAFTA

One bright spot in Buenos Aires on Friday before the summit opened was the signing of a revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Signing the agreement alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump said he looked forward to working with the U.S. Congress to complete the terms of the deal and did not anticipate problems in passing it.

The three countries agreed a deal in principle to govern their trillion dollars of mutual trade after a year and a half of contentious talks concluded with a late-night bargain just an hour before a deadline on Sept. 30.

However, Trudeau took advantage of the signing ceremony to say the partners needed to keep working to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton and Makini Brice in Washington; Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Cassandra Garrison, Daniel Flynn and Pablo Garibian in Buenos Aires; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Ross Colvin and Frances Kerry)

Trump cancels Putin meeting over Ukraine crisis

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to the G20 Summit in Argentina from the White House in Washington, U.S., November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday suddenly canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for this week’s Group of 20 industrialized nations summit in Argentina, citing the current Ukraine crisis.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Trump tweeted after departing for the G20 summit.

Trump’s tweet was a sudden turnaround. Roughly an hour earlier, he had told reporters he would probably meet with Putin at the summit and said it was “a very good time to have the meeting.”

But Trump had also said he would get a final report during the flight to Argentina on the tension in the region after Russia seized Ukrainian vessels near Crimea on Sunday.

Differences over Ukraine, as well as Moscow’s role in the civil war in Syria, have been an irritant in U.S.-Russian relations for years.

The administration of former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. That in part brought ties between Washington and Moscow to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Since then, the United States has investigated Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 presidential election that Trump won. Russia has denied meddling and Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Trump support for Saudi prince leaves Turkey with tough choices

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Ministro Pistarini in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 28, 2018. Argentine G20/Handout via REUTERS

By Orhan Coskun and Dominic Evans

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Eight weeks since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, U.S. President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for the kingdom’s powerful crown prince has left Turkey in a bind.

The longer it confronts Saudi Arabia over who exactly ordered the operation, the more it risks looking isolated as other countries put aside their misgivings and return to business with the world’s biggest oil exporter.

A prolonged standoff with Riyadh could also jeopardize Turkey’s own fragile rapprochement with Washington if it forces Trump to choose sides between the rival regional powers.

Turkey’s dilemma comes to a head this week at the G20 summit of the world’s main economies, where President Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could meet, according to Turkish officials.

Without naming him, Erdogan has repeatedly suggested the prince has questions to answer over the killing, while one of his advisers has said bluntly that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler has Khashoggi’s blood on his hands.

But Erdogan has avoided talking about Khashoggi’s death in recent speeches, raising questions about whether he may soften his stance towards the 33-year-old heir to the throne who could be running Saudi Arabia for several decades to come.

“A meeting may take place. A final decision has not been made yet,” a senior political source said, shortly before Erdogan’s departure for the summit in Argentina.

“Saudi Arabia is an important country for Turkey … Nobody wants relations to sour because of the Khashoggi murder.”

Erdogan has good relations with the Saudi monarch, King Salman, but ties have been strained by recent Saudi moves including the blockade of Qatar, championed by Salman’s son.

Analysts say Erdogan sees Saudi assertiveness under the prince as challenging Turkey’s influence in the Middle East.

FILE PHOTO: A woman takes part in a protest opposing the visit of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Tunis, Tunisia, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A woman takes part in a protest opposing the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Tunis, Tunisia, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo

It was the steady drip of evidence from Turkish officials – furious over what they said was a gruesome and carefully planned assassination in their country – which fuelled global outrage at Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed.

Erdogan said the hit was ordered at the highest levels of Saudi leadership, and the CIA assessed the prince was directly behind it, despite vehement Saudi denials.

But nearly two months since Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered by a team of 15 Saudi agents, Western powers have taken little action against Saudi Arabia, a big buyer of Western arms and a strategic ally of Washington.

The most concrete U.S. step so far was a decision in mid-November to impose economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials, including the prince’s senior aide, Saud al-Qahtani.

Meanwhile, Trump has stood by the crown prince, saying he does not want to jeopardize U.S. business and defying intense pressure from lawmakers to impose broader sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

SECOND THOUGHTS?

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there was no direct evidence connecting Prince Mohammed to Khashoggi’s murder, and that any downgrading of U.S.-Saudi ties in response would hurt U.S. security.

That clear message from the Trump administration may be forcing Turkey to think again.

“Initially the objective was to pressure Trump to drop his relationship with MbS,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and analyst at the Carnegie Europe think tank, referring to the crown prince.

“On the contrary, Trump seems to have decided to consolidate that relationship, and that’s why there had to be a reassessment in Ankara about how to manage this,” he said.

Ulgen said Erdogan’s priority was to safeguard the modest recovery in relations with Washington since a Turkish court last month freed a U.S. pastor who had been detained for two years on terrorism charges.

“Turkey doesn’t want to endanger the political capital that it earned in Washington by pushing too far (on Khashoggi). That’s the main motivation,” he said.

Bolstered by Trump’s support, Saudi officials have insisted that Prince Mohammed did not know in advance about the operation, and Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said last week Turkish authorities had told Saudi officials that they were not accusing the crown prince of involvement.

Saudi Arabia’s official news agency said trade ministers from the two countries met in Istanbul on Wednesday and would encourage Saudi investment in Turkey, and Turkish companies to take part in projects in Saudi Arabia.

Any change in Turkey’s approach would likely be gradual. Erdogan made no mention of Saudi Arabia when he spoke to reporters as he left Istanbul airport on Wednesday night, but he may still choose not to meet the prince in Argentina.

“Saudi Arabia has yet to make a satisfactory statement regarding the murder in Istanbul,” said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Turkey’s Bilgi University.

“The Turkish government is still working on the investigation … It’s possible to say that it’s a little too early for a meeting.”

Another Turkish official said the government was still assessing the Saudi request for a meeting. If the two men do hold talks in Buenos Aires, the conversation would be broadly the same as the phone call they held a month ago, he said.

“Turkey will repeat its current position at the meeting if there is one,” the official said. “Turkey wants all those responsible for the murder to be brought to justice, and it’s not asking for a punishment for Saudi Arabia.”

“It’s not realistic to expect a major improvement from that meeting, but a contact will have been made”

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Editing by Giles Elgood)