22 January 2020
US and Chinese officials sit across a table before the resumption of high-level trade talks in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
US and Chinese officials sit across a table before the resumption of high-level trade talks in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

US, China resume trade talks to thrash out structural pacts

The top US and Chinese trade negotiators resumed high-level talks on Thursday to hash out a deal that could end their trade war, just over a week before a US-imposed deadline to reach agreement expires and triggers a new round of tariffs, Reuters reports.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by March 1, US tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent.

During a photo opportunity to mark the start of their talks in Washington on Thursday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He faced each other silently across a table in a building next door to the White House.

At their sides were US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang and other cabinet-level officials from the two countries. They did not answer reporters’ questions.

It is unclear whether the latest round of talks, which are due to conclude on Friday, may be extended into next week, and where those future negotiations might occur, the report said.

US President Donald Trump has said the March 1 deadline could be extended if enough progress is made.

According to Reuters, the two sides are starting to sketch out what an agreement on structural issues might look like, drafting language for six memorandums of understanding on proposed Chinese reforms.

Sources were quoted as saying that the memorandums would cover forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade.

The two sides remain far apart on demands by Trump’s administration for China to end practices on those issues that led Trump to start levying duties on Chinese imports in the first place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping would need to undertake difficult structural economic reforms to meet US demands.

The US is offering no real concessions in return, other than to remove the tariff barriers Trump has imposed to force change from China, according to the report.

One of Trump’s demands that is easier to fix for Beijing is to reduce the trade imbalance between the two nations. The US trade deficit with China reached a record US$382 billion through the first eleven months of 2018.

The two sides have reached consensus on how to alleviate the trade imbalances, Chinese government sources told Reuters.

Washington and Beijing are said to be looking at a 10-item list for that, including additional Chinese purchases of agricultural produce, energy and goods such as semiconductors.

US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called China’s pledges to purchase American agricultural produce premature.

“Those proposals are all contingent upon a grand deal,” he said on the sidelines of the US Department of Agriculture’s annual forum in Washington.

“The real issue is structural reforms regarding intellectual property, enforceability of those types of provisions.”

– Contact us at [email protected]