China hopes US will create conditions necessary for September trade talks

In a photo taken on July 31, 2019, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer shakes hands with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at the Xijiao Conference Center in Shanghai.
In a photo taken on July 31, 2019, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer shakes hands with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He at the Xijiao Conference Center in Shanghai.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China and the US are discussing the next round of face-to-face trade talks due next month, but hopes for progress hinge on whether Washington can create favourable conditions, China's Commerce Ministry has said.

In the latest tit-for-tat escalation of the trade war between the world's two largest economies, US President Donald Trump last Friday said he would heap an additional duty of 5 per cent on about US$550 billion (S$763 billion) in targeted Chinese goods.

The move came hours after China unveiled retaliatory tariffs on US$75 billion worth of US goods.

China hopes the US can cancel the planned additional tariffs to avoid an escalation in the trade war, its Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters yesterday.

"The most important thing at the moment is to create necessary conditions for both sides to continue negotiations," he said during a weekly briefing, adding that China was lodging "solemn representation" with the US.

For two years, the Trump administration has sought to pressure China to eliminate what it calls unfair trade practices, and make sweeping changes to its policies on intellectual property protection, forced transfers of technology to Chinese firms, industrial subsidies and market access.

But China has constantly denied such accusations, vowing to fight back in kind and criticising US measures as protectionist.

Mr Gao said China had "ample" countermeasures to retaliate against the planned US tariffs, but talks in the current circumstances should focus on whether the tariffs could be cancelled.

China has repeatedly said it would have no choice but to retaliate if the United States followed through on its tariff threat.

 
 
 

On Monday, Mr Trump predicted a trade deal with Beijing, saying he believed it was sincere about wanting to reach a deal, citing what he called increasing economic pressure on China and job losses there.

Mr Trump cited as a positive sign comments by Vice-Premier Liu He, who has been leading the talks with Washington, that China was willing to resolve the dispute through "calm" negotiations.

He repeated his assertion that Chinese officials had contacted their US trade counterparts overnight, offering to resume negotiations, a statement that China declined to confirm.

Mr Gao also declined to provide any detail when asked if there had been a call this week between Beijing and Washington.

"As far as I know, both trade teams have maintained effective communication," he said.

In July last year, the US-China trade dispute boiled over, with the two countries imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of each other's goods. The trade war has also put global growth at risk.

On Wednesday, the US Trade Representative's (USTR) office made official its extra 5 per cent tariff on US$300 billion worth of Chinese imports and set collection dates of Sept 1 and Dec 15, prompting hundreds of American retail, footwear, toy and technology companies to warn of price hikes.

A USTR spokesman said the agency would issue a separate Federal Register notice with details of Mr Trump's planned tariff increase to 30 per cent on US$250 billion in goods that have already been hit with a 25 per cent levy, including procedures for collecting public comments on the move.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2019, with the headline 'China hopes US will create conditions necessary for September trade talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe