'Good to see you': US, Chinese negotiators resume trade talks

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (right) poses with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (center) and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left) before their their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on May 1, 2019.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (right) poses with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (center) and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left) before their their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on May 1, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - Top US and Chinese trade negotiators resumed talks on Wednesday (May 1) as they an eye an endgame to a months-long dispute that has hit businesses with bruising tariffs.

Vice Premier Liu He, a close aide to President Xi Jinping on economic matters, greeted US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to begin what the US side has described as a decisive phase in the talks.

The world's two leading economies have exchanged tariffs on US$360 billion (S$489 billion) worth of goods since President Donald Trump launched a trade war last year.

Mr Mnuchin and Mr Lighthizer exchanged pleasantries with Mr Liu when they arrived at the Diaoyutai state guest house on Wednesday, with the US treasury chief pointing to his red tie and smiling at the vice premier, who wore the same colour.

"Morning. Good to see you," Mr Liu told the Americans, to which Mr Mnuchin replied: "Nice to see you. It's good to be back here." Mr Mnuchin told reporters earlier that he had a "nice" working dinner with Mr Liu on Tuesday night.

Mr Liu is expected to head to Washington on May 8 for further talks.

The US side is pressing China to overhaul its industrial policy by further opening its market to foreign firms, stopping massive subsidies to domestic companies and curbing the alleged theft of American technology.

 
 
 

Beijing has made public displays of concessions, with Mr Xi last week saying China would abolish "unjustified regulations, subsidies and practices that impede fair competition and distort the market".

China has also passed a foreign investment law that promises to protect the intellectual property of overseas companies.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that Mr Trump was dropping a key demand in the negotiations, with the US likely to accept a watered-down commitment from China on commercial cyber theft.

Such a concession could remove a major obstacle for a final deal in the fraught talks.

Mr Mnuchin said earlier this week that the sides were close to agreement on tough enforcement provisions in any trade pact.

He also said the talks were in a decisive phase, telling the Fox Business channel "there's a strong desire from both sides to see if we can wrap this up or move on".

"We hope within the next two rounds - in China and in DC - to be at the point where we can either recommend to the president we have a deal or make a recommendation that we don't," he said.