Date
19 October 2018
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said World Trade Organization rules were designed for market-driven economies, not ones dominated by state-owned enterprises like China. Photo: AFP
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said World Trade Organization rules were designed for market-driven economies, not ones dominated by state-owned enterprises like China. Photo: AFP

US trade chief says China policy change ‘not going to be easy’

US President Donald Trump’s top trade official said changing China’s economic policies to become more market-oriented “is not going to be easy” even with tariffs now in place on US$250 billion worth of Chinese goods, Reuters reports.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in rare public remarks at the Concordia Summit in New York, said “endless dialogues” with the Chinese government over decades had “failed miserably” in changing Beijing’s policies, so the Trump administration decided to try direct pressure with tariffs based on its study of China’s intellectual property and technology transfer policies.

After China retaliated against what he called “modest” US tariffs on US$50 billion in Chinese technology-focused imports, the Trump administration on Monday slapped 10 percent duties on another US$200 billion of Chinese goods, including many consumer products.

“We enter into that soberly with an enormous amount of study, but the fact is that what we were doing demonstrably failed,” Lighthizer said.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Lighthizer said when asked what would result in concessions from Beijing. “Change is never easy, particularly where we have change, where there are US companies that are benefiting from the improper Chinese policy,” he said.

Lighthizer repeated his views that China’s intellectual property practices and non-market industrial subsidies that have resulted in excess production capacity would put the future of the US economy and its high-technology industries at risk.

“We changed the paradigm, we have tariffs in place, and the president is not going let this go long, where you take intellectual property where you have a forced transfer of intellectual property, where you treat American companies and farmers and ranchers poorly,” he added.

The US trade chief was meeting on Tuesday with his counterparts from Japan and the European Union as part of regular talks to deal with China’s non-market policies and to craft reforms to World Trade Organization rules.

Lighthizer, who has long criticized the WTO as unable to rein in excess Chinese capacity, said the body’s rules were designed for market-driven economies, not ones dominated by state-owned enterprises like China.

Because all WTO members must agree on rule changes, getting China to agree to new rules that would force changes to its policies is “kind of a conundrum”, he said, adding that he believed in the WTO which remained “an important body”.

“I’ve said this before, if we didn’t have it, we’d have to invent it,” he added.

In Beijing, a senior Chinese official said it is difficult to proceed with trade talks with the US while Washington is putting “a knife to China’s neck”, a day after both sides heaped fresh tariffs on each other’s goods.

When the talks can restart would depend on the “will” of the US, Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen told a news conference on Tuesday.

“Now that the United States has adopted such a huge trade restriction measure … how can the negotiations proceed? It’s not an equal negotiation,” Wang said, stressing the US has abandoned its mutual understanding with China.

The Chinese government’s top diplomat also told business people at a meeting in New York that talks could not take place against the backdrop of “threats and pressure”, the Foreign Ministry said.

Certain forces in the United States have been making groundless criticisms against China about trade and security issues, which has poisoned the atmosphere for Sino-US ties and is highly irresponsible, State Councillor Wang Yi was quoted as saying, without naming anyone.

“If this continues, it will destroy in an instant the gains of the last four decades of China-US relations,” Wang told members of the US-China Business Council and National Committee on United States-China Relations.

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CG

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