Talks lay foundation for future trade deal with US, says China

While differences remain, experts are optimistic that the United States and China will be able to reach an agreement on trade by March 1.
While differences remain, experts are optimistic that the United States and China will be able to reach an agreement on trade by March 1.PHOTO: REUTERS

Progress on issues such as IP and forced tech transfers; experts optimistic of deal by March 1

The just-concluded trade discussions between the United States and China have laid the foundation for a future deal, with progress being made on thorny issues including forced technology transfers and intellectual property protection, China's Ministry of Commerce (Mofcom) said yesterday.

While differences remain, experts are optimistic that the two sides will be able to reach an agreement on trade by March 1, the deadline before the US imposes heightened tariffs on Chinese goods.

Mofcom said both sides carried out "extensive, in-depth and detailed exchanges" on trade and structural issues.

While less effusive, a statement released earlier by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) indicated that the talks had covered a broad range of areas on which the two sides have differed.

It said that among the topics discussed were the "needed structural changes in China with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial purposes, services and agriculture".

Beijing said that the three-day closed-door talks, which ended on Wednesday, "enhanced mutual understanding and established a foundation for solving each other's concerns".

The negotiations now pave the way for both countries' top negotiators - US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He - to thrash out a deal. Mr Liu is expected to travel to Washington later this month for further talks.


The wide-ranging discussions in Beijing covered "structural issues" that the Americans have long complained about.

Mofcom spokesman Gao Feng said that these issues were an important item of the negotiations, and that progress has been made.

Washington added that the talks also focused on "China's pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods, and other products and services from the US".

"The officials also discussed the need for any agreement to provide for complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement," it went on to say.

Global Times editor Hu Xijin said that of the issues raised, the trade imbalance problem was "solved most smoothly".

"In other respects, China accepted parts that are in line with its reform, but rejected requests that harm its national security," Mr Hu tweeted yesterday.

The talks were initially scheduled to end on Tuesday, but extended past their deadline.

They were the first face-to-face meetings since Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump brokered a 90-day truce on trade last month.

The trade war has seen both sides impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods from each other.

Experts say that recent remarks from senior leaders on both sides indicate there is political will to reach a deal.

Professor Zhu Feng, director of Nanjing University's Institute of International Studies, said that neither side would be able to shift position after just one round of talks.

"There are a lot of different opinions and disputes, but both sides need these kind of collisions at this time, and to make known their demands, positions and views to the other party," he said, adding that the next round of talks would be about bridging these differences.

Associate Professor Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said that moving forward, Washington would likely drop some of its demands on China's structural reforms.

"If that turns out to be the case, I think some sort of agreement is very likely," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2019, with the headline 'Talks lay foundation for future trade deal, says China'. Print Edition | Subscribe