China offers to buy US$70 billion of US goods, Trump administration official confirms

China's Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng at a news conference in Beijing, China, on April 6, 2018.
China's Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng at a news conference in Beijing, China, on April 6, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (AFP, REUTERS) - China has offered to buy US$70 billion (S$93.19 billion) worth of US goods if Washington drops plans to impose tariffs in return, an official in President Donald Trump’s administration told AFP on Wednesday (June 6), confirming an earlier report. 

Top Chinese economic adviser Liu He made the offer during weekend trade talks in Beijing with a US delegation led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. 

The new purchases would include soybeans, natural gas, crude oil and coal.  The Commerce Department on Wednesday told AFP no definitive agreement had been reached and no further information was available. 

During a regular news briefing on Thursday in Beijing, the Chinese Commerce Ministry confirmed the two sides had discussed detailed proposals during the trade negotiations. 

“China and the US carried out in-depth and concrete discussions in some specific areas of trade cooperation, especially agricultural products and energy,” said Gao Feng, the ministry’s spokesman, when asked about the US$70 billion figure. 

“China is willing to expand imports from the US under the precondition of both sides walking towards each other,” Gao said. 

US exports to China last year hit US$130.4 billion, according to the department. A US$70 billion package of purchases would amount to a 53.8 per cent increase.  For goods alone, the US trade deficit with China hit a record US$375 billion last year, and the White House has demanded Beijing cut the imbalance by US$200 billion. 

President Donald Trump had announced last week that the US was pressing ahead with plans to impose 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports tied to the tech sector, which Washington says has benefited from the alleged theft of US know-how and intellectual property.  

The administration has said that a final list of goods for a first wave of duties will be issued next week, and that US Treasury Department plans to limit Chinese investment in the United States were also under way.

“If the United States introduces trade sanctions including tariffs, all the economic and trade achievements negotiated by the two parties will be void,” China’s official news agency Xinhua said on Sunday. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Liu personally explained to Ross the offer would be void in the event Washington imposed additional tariffs. 

Structural issues that for years have angered Washington, such as Chinese joint venture rules, market access restrictions, and policies that result in technology transfers, were not covered during Ross' latest trip to Beijing, according to sources.

Washington’s trade battles with China, Europe, Mexico and others are an effort to make those countries buy more US goods and force down the US trade deficit, which Trump sees as a job killer and threat to the American industrial base.