Mnuchin says he is ‘hopeful’ they can turn Trump-Xi discussions into real trade agreement

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressed optimism about the future of a trade agreement with China, saying the U.S. has received commitments for concessions on several key issues.

“This is the first time that we have a commitment from them that this will be a real agreement,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s Squawk Box. “I’m very hopeful we can turn this into a real agreement.”

Markets rallied strongly Monday morning on news that U.S. President Donald Trump his Chinese countepart, Xi Jinping, had reached a truce in the trade battle between the two sides. They agreed to a 90-day period were no new tariffs would be issued as the leaders hammer out principal differences.

While the administration is optimistic that a lasting deal can get done, Mnuchin emphasized that China has to keep to its word.

“They put on the table an offer of over $1.2 trillion in additional commitments. But the details of that still need to be negotiated,” he said. “This isn’t just about buying things. This is about opening markets to U.S. companies and protecting U.S. technology. Those are very important structural issues to the president.”

In the 90-day period ahead, Trump will lead the negotiations with assistance from Agriculture and Energy department leaders. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer also will be a principal as will Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Mnuchin said.

The protocol that Mnuchin listed contradicted an earlier statement from White House economic advisor Peter Navarro, who said Lighthizer would take point on the negotations.

Lighthizer is “the toughest negotiator we’ve ever had at the USTR. And he’s gonna go chapter and verse and get tariffs down, non-tariff barriers down, and end all these structural practices that prevent market access,” Navarro said.

Among the most important issues he listed are a regulating the flow of fentanyl, an opioid liked to thousands of overdoses in the U.S., and the North Korea nuclear issue.

“There is a very strong commitment between the two presidents to work together to make sure we have a nuclear-free Korean peninsula,” Mnuchin said.

As Mnuchin spoke to CNBC, Trump tweeted about his hopes for “massive and very positive change, on trade and far beyond, between our two great Nations.”

Mnuchin added that there need to be solid progress made and that the administration won’t stand for any stalling from China.

“We absolutely need to have something concrete over these 90 days,” he said. “There was a very significant commitment from both leaders on what needs to be done over the 90 days and instructions to both teams to negotiate and turn this into a real agreement with specific action items, deliverables and time frames.”

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