Key issues of the US-China trade talks

There are 7 key issues that will determine the success of the trade talks as the 2 nations start meeting today

BEIJING • US and Chinese officials are set to begin trade negotiations today in the hope of reaching a deal during a 90-day truce between US President Donald Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping.

While the mid-level talks probably won’t produce a major breakthrough, the stakes are high as both sides face a resumption of tariffs in March if they don’t strike a deal.

More senior-level discussions are expected later this month, with the South China Morning Post reporting that Trump may hold talks with Chinese VP Wang Qishanat the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Here are seven issues that will be key to making headway:

1. Intellectual Property

The US accusation that China forces American companies to share sensitive technology and steals intellectual property (IP) is one of the thorniest issues, and could make or break any potential deal.

The 90-day negotiations will focus on “structural changes” in the way China handles technology transfers, IP protection, cyber theft and other issues, the US said after Trump and Xi met in Argentina.

2. Huawei and 5G

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, China’s biggest maker of telecom equipment, has long denied accusations by the US and its allies of facilitating state-sponsored espionage. The company is racing to develop 5G technology and owns a tenth of essential patents worldwide.

But its efforts have been frustrated by the US, which has banned its products for government procurement and encouraged other nations to do the same.

Beijing has also demanded Canada release Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Canada on the behalf of the US for alleged bank fraud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also probing possible Iranian sanctions violations by the company.

3. Made in China 2025

Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan aims to transform China into an advanced manufacturing leader by targeting 10 emerging sectors including robotics, clean-energy vehicles and biotechnology.

The industrial ambition has raised the ire of the White House, which argues its state-led intervention violates World Trade Organisation’s rules and could create an unfair playing field for foreign investors. Tariffs imposed by Trump took aim at many of the industries targeted in the plan.

China sees the plan as essential to achieving its long-term economic goals. Last month, people familiar said China may be willing to amend the plan, perhaps even postponing some of it by a decade, if that helps bring an end to the trade war.

4. Energy

The trade tensions have disrupted what should be a sweet deal for the two countries: The US is becoming a major oil and natural gas exporter, while China has emerged as the world’s biggest buyer of both.

While lifting China’s retaliatory tariff on US liquefied natural gas (LNG) may revive sales, the bigger, longer-term concern for the industry is restoring enough trust to convince Chinese companies to invest the billions of dollars in future American LNG export projects. Meanwhile, any assurances from Beijing that it won’t target US crude would help dispel the concerns that choked off sales last year.

5. Agricultural Imports

Investors will be watching to see if China removes retaliatory tariffs on US farm products — including soybeans, corn, cotton, sorghum and pork — that severely hurt America’s heartland.

Lifting the tariffs could encourage private buyers to immediately resume US farm-product purchases. China may also remove its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on US distiller’s dried grains, which China is the largest buyer of, as well as allow imports of US poultry after it gave the green light on US rice purchases. If talks fail, China may also cancel some soybean orders that have been placed over the past weeks.

6. Auto Tariffs

After imposing a 25% retaliatory tariff on vehicles imported from the US, China temporarily scrapped the duty starting Jan 1 as the world’s two largest economies looked for a way to cool trade tensions.

The additional tax has hurt all carmakers that sell US-made cars in China, including Tesla Inc, BMW AG and Daimler AG. Auto sales in China have fallen for six consecutive months through November, and December data is due this week.

7. Market Access for Banks
China has pledged to increase access for foreign-owned financial firms. In November, UBS Group AG became the first entity to win control of a local securities joint venture under rules that were eased in 2018.

Xi said the opening is steadily widening, and Bloomberg Economics estimates that foreign banks and securities companies could be raking in profits of more than US$32 billion (RM132.48 billion) a year in China by 2030. — Bloomberg