US and Chinese negotiators wrap up ‘constructive’ trade talks

In the meantime, another face-to-face negotiation is scheduled for Washington this week

BEIJING • US and Chinese negotiators wrapped up “constructive” trade talks in Beijing last Friday ahead of another round this week, a top American official said as the economic superpowers aim to settle a bruising tariffs battle.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held negotiations with China’s Vice Premier Liu He at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse after a working dinner last Thursday.

Mnuchin wrote on Twitter that he and Lighthizer “concluded constructive trade talks in Beijing”, but he did not provide more details.

“I look forward to welcoming Liu to continue these important discussions in Washington this week,” he said.

The two negotiating teams — including China’s central bank chief Yi Gang — posed for pictures in front of Chinese and American flags, but they did not make statements to the media.

Officials are seeking to iron out major differences over US accusations that China has been using unfair trade practices for years by heavily subsidising its companies while snatching the technological knowhow of American firms.

US President Donald Trump has said the two sides are close to a deal, but officials have played down expectations of an imminent agreement.

Kudlow says the talks are not ‘time- dependent’ and could last weeks, or even months, if necessary

In Washington, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said last Thursday the talks are not “time dependent” and could last weeks, or even months, if necessary.

The talks are “policy and enforcement dependent”, Kudlow said.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said a “large amount of work” remains to be done and both sides confirmed before this round of talks that another face-to-face negotiation is scheduled for Washington this week.

The two sides have imposed tariffs on US$360 billion (RM1.47 trillion) in two-way trade since last year, but Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a truce in December.

Trump suggested recently that some of those tariffs should stay in place after a deal is reached to ensure China keeps its end of any bargain.

“We have to see what the track record is and we’re not going to give up our leverage,” said Kudlow.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the tariffs will be kept in place, some of the tariffs will be kept there,” he told Bloomberg TV.

US insistence on keeping the first tranche of 25% tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports could be a sticking point for a deal, analysts said.

It is hard to predict if China will accept a deal leaving some tariffs in place, said economist Cui Fan of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

The truce agreed by Xi and Trump called for “reaching a deal as soon as possible in the direction of mutually cancelling the punitive tariffs slapped on by both sides”, Cui said.

Beijing has taken steps to address some US complaints, rushing through a law this month that promises to protect foreign firms from the forced transfer of technology.

It also includes language on protecting foreign companies’ commercial secrets, and fleshes out criminal penalties for officials who leak confidential information they obtain from overseas businesses.

Chinese state-owned companies have also stepped up purchases of American agricultural goods such as soybeans.

Massive purchases of American goods are expected to be part of any deal, in order to lower the politically sensitive US trade deficit with China, which reached a record high of US$419.2 billion last year. — AFP