Chinese and United States negotiators have made “important progress” in their latest round of trade talks, according China’s state media, as US President Donald Trump said he will soon meet his Chinese counterpart to try to secure a comprehensive deal betweent the world’s two largest economies,
The two sides held “candid, specific and fruitful” discussions during two days of high-level talks in Washington, DC, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday, citing a statement from the Chinese delegation.
US negotiators also cited cited substantial progress following the conclusion of the talks but the White House emphasised a scheduled tariff increase on $200bn of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent was a “hard deadline” if no deal was reached by March 1.
Economists say that prospect – a sharp escalation in the US-China trade war which last year saw the two countries slapping tariffs on more than $360bn in two-way trade – would be a big blow to the global economy.
Speaking at the White House during a meeting on Thursday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, Trump said he was optimistic that the economic powerhouses could reach “the biggest deal ever made.”
No specific plans for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping were announced, but Trump said there could be more than one meeting. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were invited to bring a US negotiating team to Beijing around mid-February, with dates still pending.
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At the end of the talks next door to the White House, Liu told Trump that China would make a new, immediate commitment to increase soybean purchases. An administration official later clarified the amount as a total of 5m tonnes, effectively doubling the amount bought by China since resuming limited purchases in December.
US soybean sales to China, which totaled 31.7m tonnes in 2017, were largely cut off in the second half of last year by China’s retaliatory tariffs and the announcement drew a positive reaction from Trump, who said it would “make our farmers very happy.”
While China has offered increased purchases of US farm, energy and other goods to try to resolve the trade disputes, negotiators dug into thornier issues, including Washington’s demands that Beijing take steps to protect US intellectual property and end policies that the White House says force US companies to turn over technology to Chinese firms.
Lighthizer said there was “substantial progress” on these issues, including verification mechanisms to “enforce” China’s follow-through on any reform commitments it makes.
“At this point, it’s impossible for me to predict success. But we’re in a place that if things work out, it could happen,” Lighthizer said at the Oval Office meeting.
Later, he told reporters that the US objective was to make China’s commitments “more specific, all-encompassing and enforceable” with a mechanism for taking action if Beijing fails to follow through, but declined to provide specific issues.
Reuters news agency previously reported that such an enforcement mechanism would involve a snap-back of US tariffs.
Asked whether the two sides discussed lifting US tariffs on Chinese goods, Lighthizer said tariffs were not part of the talks.
A person familiar with the discussions said a broad range of concerns about access to Chinese agricultural markets were raised in the talks but little progress was made.
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Trump said he did not think he would need to extend the March 1 deadline. “I think when President Xi and I meet, every point will be agreed to,” Trump added.
But Trump has vetoed multiple proposed trade deals with China, choosing to push ahead with tariffs on Chinese goods to gain leverage.
Earlier, Trump said on Twitter he was looking for China to open its markets “not only to Financial Services, which they are now doing, but also to our Manufacturing, Farmers and other U.S. businesses and industries. Without this a deal would be unacceptable!”
Washington complaints on technology transfers, and intellectual property protections, along with accusations of Chinese cyber theft of US trade secrets and a systematic campaign to acquire US technology firms, were used by Trump’s administration to justify punitive tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese imports.
China has retaliated with tariffs of its own, but has suspended some and is allowing some purchases of US soybeans during the talks.
Chinese officials have said their policies do not coerce technology transfers.
The US tariffs on Chinese goods are just one front in Trump’s efforts to upend the global trading order with his “America First” strategy. He has also imposed global tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, washing machines and solar panels and has threatened to raise tariffs on imported cars unless Japan and the European Union offer trade concessions.