US, China hold trade talks ahead of Trump-Xi meeting at G-20

(From right) Chinese Vice Premier Liu He poses with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Beijing, on May 1, 2019.
(From right) Chinese Vice Premier Liu He poses with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Beijing, on May 1, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Top Chinese and American trade negotiators have held telephone talks ahead of a crunch meeting between presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit this week, Chinese state media reported.

Vice-Premier Liu He - Mr Xi's pointman in the trade war - spoke with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday, and they "exchanged opinions on economic and trade issues", according to the official Xinhua news agency yesterday.

The call took place "at the request of the US side", and the officials agreed to maintain contact, Xinhua added.

Mr Trump's highly-anticipated meeting with Mr Xi will take place on Saturday - the second day of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, a US official said.

The two leaders agreed to meet after negotiations broke down last month and both sides have since raised fresh tariffs on each other's goods. The United States has imposed additional tariffs on US$200 billion (S$271 billion) worth of Chinese goods and China did likewise on US$60 billion worth of US goods.

Chinese officials on Monday said they will seek a united front against protectionism at the G-20.

"Unilateralism and protectionism have damaged global growth... undermined global value chains and dampened market sentiment," Mr Zhang Jun, the Chinese Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, said at a briefing ahead of Mr Xi's attendance at the summit. "China will work with others at the G-20 to firmly uphold multilateralism and an open, rule-based global trading order."

Mr Trump has instigated trade battles with an array of countries and regions, from China to Japan, Mexico and the European Union, but Beijing's own economic policies have also been criticised.

 

The US and EU have accused Beijing of not providing a level playing field for foreign companies in China, allowing the theft of intellectual property and forcing international companies to hand their trade secrets to local partners.

Chinese Vice-Minister for Commerce Wang Shouwen said on Monday that Washington and Beijing should make compromises. He also urged the US to remove "inappropriate and discriminatory" barriers against Chinese companies, saying such moves jeopardise the interests of both Chinese and American firms - an oblique reference to the US treatment of Huawei.

US officials have accused their Chinese counterparts of backsliding on commitments made in the talks, but Mr Lighthizer said last week he was hopeful the discussions could resume productively.

"My speculation is that some forces in China decided that they had gone too far, went out beyond their mandate," he said. "I have trust and complete good faith in the people that I'm dealing with... My hope is we can get back on track."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2019, with the headline 'US, China hold trade talks ahead of Trump-Xi meeting at G-20'. Print Edition | Subscribe