US President Donald Trump says he could let the March 1 deadline for a trade agreement with China "slide for a little while," but would prefer not to and expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to close the deal at some point.
US tariffs on $US200 billion worth of imports from China are scheduled to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent if the two sides cannot reach a deal by the deadline, increasing pain and costs in sectors from consumer electronics to agriculture.
Trump's advisers have previously described March 1 as a "hard deadline," but Trump told reporters for the first time that a delay was now possible.
"If we're close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal and it's going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while," Trump said of the deadline at a White House cabinet meeting.
"But generally speaking, I'm not inclined to do that."
"We're doing very well over in China," Trump added.
A growing number of US businesses and lawmakers have expressed hopes for a delay in the tariff increase while the two sides tackle the difficult US demands for major "structural" policy changes by China aimed at ending the forced transfer of American trade secrets, curbing Beijing's industrial subsidies and enforcing intellectual property rights.
Erin Ennis, senior vice president of the US-China Business Council, said more time may be needed for a deal, which will require a meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart to complete.
"What I am sensing is there is a strong desire on both sides to reach an agreement," she added.
Trump said last week he did not plan to meet with Xi before the March 1 deadline.
US stocks rallied on Trump's trade comments, along with a tentative congressional spending deal aimed at avoiding another government shutdown.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrived in Beijing on Tuesday and are scheduled to hold talks on Thursday and Friday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the top economic adviser to Xi.
"We're looking forward to several important days of talks," Mnuchin told reporters.
The latest round of talks in Beijing kicked off on Monday with discussions among deputy-level officials to try to work out technical details, including a mechanism for enforcing any trade agreement.
A round of talks at the end of January ended with some progress reported, but no deal and US declarations that much more work was needed.