BUS-190215-China_US_Trade_Talks-(Read-Only)
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping next to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Beijing. Image Credit: AP

BEIJING, WASHINGTON

Talks between China and the United States to resolve their bruising trade war will resume next week in Washington, with both sides saying this week’s negotiations in Beijing made progress.

The White House stood by its March 1 deadline for reaching a deal or raising tariffs on certain Chinese goods, despite US President Donald Trump having said he was reluctantly willing to let the target date slide.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Friday the two economic superpowers “will continue working on all outstanding issues in advance of the March 1, 2019, deadline.” “These detailed and intensive discussions led to progress between the two parties. Much work remains, however,” Sanders said about the Beijing round of talks.

China and the United States reached a consensus in principle on some key issues during the talks, China’s state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, adding they had a detailed discussion on a memorandum of understanding on trade and economic issues. It gave no details.

The countries focused this week on technology, intellectual property rights, agriculture, services, non-tariff barriers and currency, and discussed potential Chinese purchases of US goods and services to reduce a “large and persistent bilateral trade deficit,” Sanders said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday after a week of talks at senior and deputy levels, and called for a deal both sides could accept, Chinese state media said.

US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address US demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.

After talks on Thursday, Mnuchin said on Twitter that he and Lighthizer had held “productive meetings” with Xi’s top economic adviser, Vice Premier Liu He.

“The consultations between the two sides’ teams achieved important step-by-step progress,” Xi said, according to state television.

“Next week, both sides will meet again in Washington. I hope you will continue efforts to advance reaching a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement,” Xi said at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

He added that China was willing to take a “cooperative approach” to settling bilateral trade frictions.

Lighthizer told Xi the senior officials had “two very good days” of talks.

“We feel that we have made headway on very, very important, and very difficult issues. We have additional work to do but we are hopeful,” Lighthizer said, according to a foreign media pool video.

Neither country has offered new details on how they might de-escalate the tariff war that has roiled financial markets and disrupted manufacturing supply chains.

Although Trump said this week that an extension of the tariff deadline was possible if a “real deal” was close, Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council, has said the White House had made no such decision.

But several sources informed about the meetings told Reuters there was little indication negotiators had made major progress on sticking points to pave the way for a potential meeting between Xi and Trump in coming weeks to hammer out a deal.

“Stalemate on the important stuff,” said one source. All of the sources requested anonymity because the talks are confidential.

“There’s still a lot of distance between parties on structural and enforcement issues,” said a second source. “I wouldn’t quite call it hitting a wall, but it’s not a field of dreams either.” A third source told Reuters the White House was “irate” over earlier reports that the Trump administration was considering a 60-day extension of the tariff deadline.

Lighthizer and Mnuchin left their Beijing hotel on Friday afternoon without taking questions from reporters.

‘Sleight of hand’

Reuters reported earlier that in recent meetings China has pledged to make its industrial subsidy programs compliant with World Trade Organisation rules and end those that distort markets, but had offered no details of how it would do so.

US negotiators greeted the offer with scepticism, in part because China has long refused to disclose its subsidies.

And some in US industry have been unimpressed with the extent of other reported Chinese offers to address US concerns, such as Beijing’s proposal to increase purchases of US semiconductors to $200 billion over six years.

John Neuffer, president and chief executive officer of the Semiconductor Industry Association, told Reuters the offer would be “akin to an accounting sleight of hand” and “an attempt to rearrange our supply chains and drive them deeper into China”.

Neuffer added, “We are confident US government negotiators will wisely dismiss this offer and continue pushing for meaningful reforms that create a fair and level playing field for US companies doing business in China.” The proposal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was part of a “recycled” package of goods purchase offers that Beijing first presented in the spring of 2018, a source told Reuters.

Many US lawmakers and business groups have urged Trump in recent weeks not to settle for a deal based largely on increased Chinese purchases of farm and energy commodities.

Trump has said he did not expect to meet Xi before March 1, but White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders has raised the possibility of a meeting at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida.

China has long denied Washington’s accusations of trade abuses, and it has retaliated to US tariffs with its own duties on American goods.

Some trade experts say China appears focused on securing a Xi-Trump meeting, in the hope it would make a near-term deal to limit or reduce tariffs more likely.