China hints at trade talks restart after 'goodwill' moves

BEIJING • Face-to-face talks between the top Chinese and US trade negotiators could happen soon, according to Chinese state media, after a number of goodwill gestures by Beijing over the weekend.

Chinese firms have asked US exporters about buying agricultural products and also applied for exemptions from China's retaliatory tariffs on the goods, state-run Xinhua News Agency said on Sunday.

That shows China's "goodwill" and its commitment to fulfil its promises to the United States, Xinhua said early yesterday in a separate commentary.

The two sides have been "cautiously showing each other sincerity and goodwill" recently and may meet for discussions soon, according to Taoran Notes, a blog run by the state-owned Economic Daily newspaper.

In China's eyes, the US exclusions from punitive tariffs imposed on some Chinese goods and its push to allow American companies to supply Huawei Technologies were positive signals to advance the talks, according to both Xinhua and Taoran.

The Chinese government met domestic soya bean buyers last Friday about a plan to purchase more US supplies, according to people familiar with the situation.

The government is seeking feedback from companies and the proposal is subject to change, depending on progress in trade talks, the people said.

Details, including potential purchase volumes, have yet to be finalised and could include waiving China's retaliatory tariffs.

The move follows complaints by US President Donald Trump that China has not increased its purchases of American farm products, a promise he said was secured at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka last month.

Mr Trump last week reiterated he could impose additional tariffs on Chinese imports if he wanted.

Meanwhile, senior White House officials invited US technology companies including Intel and Qualcomm to the White House yesterday to discuss a resumption of sales to Huawei, which is on a trade blacklist, according to people familiar with the matter.

With China's top leadership likely to be out of Beijing from early August for their annual seaside conclave, it is highly likely that a meeting between Vice-Premier Liu He and his US counterparts is not far away, according to the Taoran Notes posting on the WeChat platform on Sunday.

The two sides spoke by phone last Thursday to discuss "the next step of negotiations", indicating a move towards face-to-face talks, Taoran Notes added.

The call last week was the second since the two nations' presidents met in Japan in late June.

Separate to the possible agricultural purchases, China announced last Saturday new measures to further open up the nation's financial sector to foreign investors.

Foreign companies will be allowed to take a stake in or control entities including wealth management units of commercial lenders, pension fund managers and currency brokers.

The changes were not announced as directly related to the trade talks with the US, but American criticism of China's protection of various domestic markets is a core issue in the ongoing trade tensions. These changes were made by the State Council's Financial Stability and Development Committee, which is also led by Mr Liu.

Still, there was a note of caution in the reports.

Taoran said the tariffs imposed on Chinese products must be entirely removed or they would be an irritant during the talks. The removal of the tariffs is one of three core conditions that China has made for any deal.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2019, with the headline China hints at trade talks restart after 'goodwill' moves. Subscribe