Ross to press China to buy more US products

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Beijing yesterday. He is trying to secure long-term purchases of American farm and energy commodities to help shrink a US$375 billion trade deficit with China.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Beijing yesterday. He is trying to secure long-term purchases of American farm and energy commodities to help shrink a US$375 billion trade deficit with China.PHOTO: REUTERS

US commerce chief's visit comes amid fury of allies over tariffs on imports of metals

BEIJING • US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing yesterday to secure more Chinese purchases of US goods and energy, days after Washington intensified pressure in its trade dispute with China and infuriated allies with tariffs on metals.

Mr Ross did not speak to reporters at his Beijing hotel. He was to have dinner with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, Beijing's lead negotiator in the trade dispute, at the Diaoyutai State Guest House, a US official said.

The two are due to meet today as well.

The visit by Mr Ross follows renewed tariff threats last week against China by the Trump administration, and as US allies are in a foul mood with Washington after they were hit with duties on steel and aluminium.

The United States and China have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to US$150 billion (S$200 billion) each.

After it appeared that a trade truce between the two economic heavyweights was on the cards, the White House last week warned it would continue to pursue tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports, as well as impose restrictions on Chinese investments in the US and tighter export controls.

With US officials sending conflicting signals during the dispute with China, one person familiar with planning for Mr Ross' visit said his aim was to keep the dialogue going.

Mr Ross, who was preceded in Beijing by more than 50 American officials, is expected during his two-day visit to try and secure long-term purchases of American farm and energy commodities to help shrink a US$375 billion trade deficit with China.

US President Donald Trump has demanded that China take steps to reduce the gap by US$200 billion annually by 2020.

The American team also wants to secure greater intellectual property protection and an end to Chinese subsidies that have contributed to overproduction of steel and aluminium.

While many countries share US frustration with Chinese trade and economic practices, critics of US policy under Mr Trump have warned that Washington risks alienating the European Union, Canada and Mexico with its tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium imports.

With US officials sending conflicting signals during the dispute with China, one person familiar with planning for Mr Ross' visit said his aim was to keep the dialogue going.

Mr Ross is "going there to tread water", the person said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"The more Trump is irritating allies and asking Chinese to buy stuff, the better off they are, because he's not sitting there and attacking the hard issues," the person said.

Those hard issues include what the US complains is rampant theft of intellectual property, as well as Beijing's support for cutting-edge technologies under its Made in China 2025 policy.

On Friday, China's markets regulator said it was still reviewing the San Diego-based Qualcomm's US$44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors.

Some people familiar with the matter have said that approval may depend on the progress of broader talks and a reprieve from a US government ban on sales by American companies to China's ZTE Corp, which was penalised for illegally supplying telecommunications gear to Iran and North Korea.

The Trump administration may soon fine ZTE up to US$1.7 billion as it looks to punish and tighten control over the company before allowing it back into business, people familiar with the matter said.

Reuters reported last Sunday that Qualcomm had been expecting to meet China's anti-trust regulators in Beijing last week in a final push to secure clearance for the deal, but the meeting never materialised, and the US company is now waiting to see the outcome of Mr Ross' talks before its executives travel to China, a person familiar with the matter said yesterday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'Ross to press China to buy more US products'. Print Edition | Subscribe