MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a working dinner tomorrow in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting. Will they make progress in solving their trade disputes? Well, President Trump fielded a question along those lines earlier today from a reporter in Buenos Aires.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we're working very hard. If we could make a deal, that would be good. I think they want to, and I think we'd like to. And we'll see.
KELLY: And we'll see. Well, NPR's John Ydstie joins us now to talk about just what we might see. Hey there, John.
JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So we've watched this trade dispute between the U.S. and China go from nasty to nastier with both of them slapping tariffs back and forth on each other. Can Trump and Xi get negotiations back on track?
YDSTIE: Well, both sides hope so. And if they don't, the dispute could get even nastier. The U.S. already has tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods coming into the U.S. On January 1, those tariffs are set to go up from 10 percent to 25 percent. And President Trump says if there's not progress, he'll levy tariffs on another $267 billion worth of Chinese products. That would raise the cost of virtually every Chinese import into the U.S. Of course China already has tariffs on U.S. goods, too, and they say they'll respond to any U.S. escalation.
KELLY: OK, so no shortage of threats from either side. But on substance, how far apart are China and the U.S.?
YDSTIE: Well, that's the problem. They're not close, not close at all. But in recent weeks, U.S. and Chinese officials have been trying to hammer out at least some kind of cease-fire in this trade war. Among the things they could do is the U.S. could agree not to raise the current tariffs from 10 to 25 percent as planned and not put tariffs on the additional amount of Chinese goods. In exchange, you know, China might reduce a few tariffs on U.S. products or make some commitment to reduce its trade surplus with the U.S.
KELLY: Which I guess would walk them back from the cliff a little bit. But what about the central demand that the U.S. has made of China, which is ending the theft of intellectual property? What kind of prospects are you seeing for progress there?
YDSTIE: Well, not a lot at this meeting. Making real progress in those areas will take time, and the groundwork really hasn't been laid. U.S. trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday, quote, "China has not come to the table with proposals for meaningful reform." So a breakthrough deal is highly unlikely. One possibility, though, is that they might agree on a framework for moving forward on these issues where the U.S. wants action. But the Chinese have complained that the Trump administration hasn't been clear on exactly what it wants, so there's still a lot of work to do.
KELLY: One thing we know about President Trump is he likes to make deals. Do we know how motivated he is and how motivated Xi is to come to some kind of agreement?
YDSTIE: Yeah, I think there are reasons for both presidents to want to make some kind of deal. For Trump, there are growing pressures to make progress on trade. One is the U.S. stock market. It's still well off, its recent highs, partly because of uncertainty caused by trade tensions. And remember; Trump kind of used the stock market as a measure of the success of his policies.
Also, remember; earlier this week, GM said Trump's tariffs cost the company an additional billion dollars. That was at the same time as GM announced the shutdown of several U.S. auto plants. And that certainly got the president's attention. As for President Xi, you know, China's economic growth has slowed considerably, and these trade issues are contributing to that. He would like to eliminate the drag on China's economy. So we'll see what happens on Saturday.
KELLY: We'll see - the words of the president. NPR's John Ydstie, thank you.
YDSTIE: You're very welcome.
KELLY: And, John, you knew we weren't going to let you escape the studio without mentioning that we're not going to get to talk to you quite so often going forward because this is your last day.
YDSTIE: This is my last day.
KELLY: How many years - you're retiring after how many years at NPR?
YDSTIE: Thirty-nine years, almost...
YDSTIE: ...Four decades.
KELLY: We threw you a farewell party...
YDSTIE: Yes, you did.
KELLY: ...On Tuesday in the NPR canteen in which I got all choked up. I have no idea how you made it through all the toasts.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Well, what the listener can't see is the enormous smile on John's face right now.
CORNISH: We are sending you into this next...
KELLY: Well, we...
CORNISH: ...Cheerily I think.
YDSTIE: Yeah, you are. But, you know, I feel so fortunate to have been part of this wonderful organization for four decades.
YDSTIE: You know, watched it become a force - this makes a profound difference in the lives of millions of people. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I've had to bear witness to some inflection points in history like the collapse of the Soviet Union, the creation of the European Union and the first Gulf War, the global financial crisis. But among the greatest privileges has been to do this with you and all of our NPR colleagues, the best colleagues anyone could hope for. I'll miss seeing you every day, but I hope I'll be back now and then to do a project or fill in for someone who needs a break.
KELLY: John Ydstie, the feeling is mutual. And we thank you and your family for 39 great years.
YDSTIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.