20 January 2020
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin shakes hands with China's Vice Premier Liu He before holding a new round of trade talks in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin shakes hands with China's Vice Premier Liu He before holding a new round of trade talks in Washington on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

US-China trade talks: Day 1 ends with hopes for limited deal

Top US and Chinese negotiators wrapped up a first day of trade talks in more than two months on Thursday as business groups expressed optimism the two sides might be able to ease a 15-month trade war and delay a US tariff hike scheduled for next week, Reuters reports.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and other senior officials from Beijing for about seven hours at the USTR’s headquarters near the White House.

“We had a very, very good negotiation with China,” US President Donald Trump told reporters after the talks concluded.

He reiterated his plans to meet with Liu at the White House on Friday. 

A White House official said talks had gone very well, “probably better than expected.”

The two sides are due to meet for a final day on Friday.

Negotiators could agree to low-level “early harvest” agreements on issues such as currencies and copyright protections, despite increased irritants between the world’s two largest economies, a US Chamber of Commerce official briefed by both sides said earlier on Thursday.

Myron Brilliant, the Chamber’s head of international affairs, told reporters that negotiators were “trying to find a path towards the bigger deal” with progress on market access and less controversial intellectual property and other issues.

“I believe that there’s even the possibility of a currency agreement this week. I think that could lead to a decision by the US administration to not put forth a tariff rate hike on Oct. 15.”

Trump launched the trade war against China with demands for sweeping structural reforms, but Beijing has indicated it is not willing to fundamentally change the way it controls China’s economy.

Asked by reporters on Thursday whether he was prepared to accept a “smaller deal,” Trump did not answer and walked away.

Previously, the president said he did not want to have a more limited deal, preferring to hold out for one that was broad in scope.

The mood surrounding the talks had soured earlier this week when the US government blacklisted 28 Chinese public security bureaus, technology and surveillance firms over allegations of abuses of Muslim minorities in China, Reuters noted.

Washington also restricted visas for certain Chinese officials over the same issue and Beijing was said to be planning to tighten visa restrictions for some US nationals.

But Chinese officials indicated more willingness to negotiate and avoid further escalation, according to Chinese state media reports.

“The Chinese side came with great sincerity, willing to cooperate with the U.S. on the trade balance, market access and investor protection,” Xinhua quoted Liu as saying on Thursday.

The US Agriculture Department said on Thursday that private exporters reported a snap sale of 398,000 tons of soybeans to China.

The department also reported record-large sales of pork, including 18,810 tons for shipment this year and 123,362 tons for shipment in 2020.

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