US, China wrap up constructive trade talks, says Mnuchin

China’s Vice-Premier Liu He with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left) and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday. Chinese and US negotiators have been working line-by-line through the
China’s Vice-Premier Liu He with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (left) and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday. Chinese and US negotiators have been working line-by-line through the text of an agreement that can be put before the US and Chinese presidents, say sources. PHOTO:EPA-EFE

US Treasury Secretary says he looks forward to next round of negotiations in Washington

BEIJING • American and Chinese negotiators wrapped up "constructive" trade talks in Beijing yesterday ahead of another round next week, a top American official said, as the two sides aim to settle a bruising tariffs battle.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held negotiations with China's Vice-Premier Liu He at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse after a working dinner on Thursday.

Mr Mnuchin wrote on Twitter that he and Mr Lighthizer "concluded constructive trade talks in Beijing", but he did not provide more details.

"I look forward to welcoming China's Vice-Premier Liu He to continue these important discussions in Washington next week," he said.

The two negotiating teams, including China's central bank chief Yi Gang, posed for pictures in front of Chinese and American flags, but they did not make statements to the media.

Chinese and US negotiators have been working line-by-line through the text of an agreement that can be put before President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to defuse the nearly year-long trade war, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Mr Mnuchin and Mr Lighthizer held meetings in Beijing yesterday partly to ensure there were no discrepancies in the English and Chinese-language versions of the text, and also to balance the number of working visits to each capital, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the talks are not public.

Officials are seeking to iron out major differences over US accusations that China has been using unfair trade practices for years by heavily subsidising its companies while snatching the technological know-how of American firms.

Mr Trump has said the two sides were close to a deal, but officials have played down expectations of an imminent agreement.

In Washington, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that the talks were not "time dependent", and could last weeks or even months if necessary.

The talks are "policy and enforcement dependent", Mr Kudlow said.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said a "large amount of work" remains to be done.

The two sides have imposed tariffs on US$360 billion (S$488 billion) worth of goods in two-way trade since last year, but Mr Trump and Mr Xi agreed to a truce in December last year.

Mr Trump suggested last week that some of those tariffs should stay in place after a deal is reached to ensure that China keeps its end of any bargain.

Mr Kudlow said: "We have to see what the track record is, and we are not going to give up our leverage."

"It doesn't necessarily mean that all the tariffs will be kept in place, some of the tariffs will be kept there," he told Bloomberg TV.

US insistence on keeping the first tranche of 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports could be a sticking point for a deal, analysts say.

It is hard to predict if China will accept a deal leaving some tariffs in place, said economist Cui Fan of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Beijing has taken steps to address some US complaints, rushing through a law this month that promises to protect foreign firms from the forced transfer of technology.

It also includes language on protecting foreign companies' commercial secrets, and fleshes out criminal penalties for officials who leak confidential information they obtain from overseas businesses.

Chinese state-owned companies have also stepped up purchases of US agricultural goods such as soya beans. The US trade deficit with China reached a record high of US$419.2 billion last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2019, with the headline 'US, China wrap up constructive trade talks, says Mnuchin'. Print Edition | Subscribe