US and China signal another round of trade talks is coming

China has received an invitation and is working on the details with the US


WASHINGTON • The US and Chinese governments are working out the details for a new round of trade talks, raising hope that the two sides may be able to ease tensions and avoid further escalation of US President Donald Trump’s trade war.

China has received an invitation and is working on the details with the US, Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at regular briefing in Beijing yesterday. That invite was recently extended by senior officials led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (picture), according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One of the people said the talks, if agreed to by the Chinese, are likely to take place in Washington.

The White House has sought to pressure Beijing to reduce its trade surplus with America and protect intellectual property rights of US companies, which it said are abused in China. The Trump administration has already imposed duties on US$50 billion (RM207.26 billion) of Chinese exports since July, which spurred immediate in-kind retaliation from Beijing.

Positive Move

“We are in communication right now and you could say that communication has picked up a notch,” said Larry Kudlow, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, who confirmed the report. “It’s positive thing,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported the US overture earlier on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources. The Dow Jones Industrial Average turned positive and emerging-market assets rallied on the news.

If the US was to implement the planned tariffs on US$200 billion in Chinese goods and more, it will hurt the interests of China, the US and the world, Gao told reporters in Beijing yesterday. China urged the US to observe World Trade Organisation rules and correct the excessive use of trade remedy measures, he said.

There are still great differences between the two sides, but China will accept the invitation and probably send Vice Premier Liu He to lead the talks, according to Yao Shaohua, an economist at ABCI Securities Co Ltd in Hong Kong. Liu led a previous round of talks in May, reaching a deal with Mnuchin which was then abandoned by a tweet from Trump.

China may have concerns that Trump will go back and forth again like in May, said Yao, but in the end it hopes for a breakthrough.

Additional Tariffs

The proposal may reduce bilateral tensions just days after Trump threatened to slap tariffs on nearly all goods the US buys from China. Trump hasn’t yet pulled the trigger on tariffs on an additional US$200 billion in Chinese goods.

A comment period for that round of tariffs expired last week without US action. He said last week that he’s lined up an additional US$267 billion of Chinese products for duties “on short notice if I want to”, which would cover virtually everything the country exports to the US, including consumer goods such as clothing and Apple smartphones.

China has said it would be forced to retaliate against all of the US’s measures, fanning concerns that the trade war could dent the global economic outlook.

Efforts to end the trade war have fizzled so far. Officials from both countries have met four times for formal talks, most recently in August, when Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs David Malpass led discussions in Washington with Chinese Vice Minister Wang Shouwen.

November Summit?

But those talks ended without a breakthrough, as the US submitted a tweaked list of demands that Beijing had previously said was unworkable, including a condition that China reduce its trade surplus with America. Last week, Kudlow complained that the Chinese have offered few concessions, and he underscored the president’s willingness to hold firm, despite Trump’s personal friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

However, Kudlow did say Trump would be open to meeting with Xi, possibly at a Group of 20 meeting in Argentina in late November.

“I don’t think the China problem will subside in the near term,” Carlos Gutierrez, former US secretary of commerce, told Bloomberg TV in an interview yesterday. “I think it plays well during an election season, and that’s in November, and the president is very worried about losing the House and potentially even losing the Senate. So, I think China will be a very big part of that campaign. I don’t see it going away soon.” — Bloomberg