US-China meeting in Beijing productive, says US official

(From left) US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He before their meeting at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing yesterday.
(From left) US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He before their meeting at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Both countries look to possibly decisive talks in Washington next week to end trade war

BEIJING • Top US and Chinese trade negotiators held productive talks in Beijing yesterday, the American side said, as the economic superpowers head towards an endgame in a dispute that has hit businesses with bruising tariffs.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, a close aide to President Xi Jinping on economic matters, met US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ahead of possibly decisive talks in the United States next week.

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.

"Ambassador Lighthizer and I just concluded productive meetings with China's Vice-Premier Liu He. We will continue our talks in Washington, DC next week," Mr Mnuchin wrote on Twitter.

The US and Chinese officials posed for pictures but made no statements about the outcome of the talks after they emerged from their hours-long meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest house.

Mr Liu and the Americans exchanged pleasantries before and after the behind-closed-door talks, joking about wearing ties in the same colour - red. The Chinese Vice-Premier gave US Ambassador Terry Branstad a blue album with the Chinese state crest on it.

Mr Mnuchin told reporters earlier that he had a nice working dinner with Mr Liu on Tuesday night.

Mr Liu is due in Washington next Wednesday for the next round of talks.

Mr Mnuchin said earlier this week that the negotiations 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".

He said: "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."

Mr Mnuchin said negotiators were close to agreement on tough enforcement provisions in any trade pact. The US is pressing China to overhaul its industrial policy by further opening its market to foreign firms, stopping massive subsidies to domestic firms and curbing 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 passed a foreign investment law that promises to protect the intellectual property of overseas firms.

The Financial Times said 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 cybertheft. Such a concession could remove a major obstacle for a final deal in the fraught talks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'US-China meeting in Beijing productive, says US official'. Print Edition | Subscribe