The first sign that the months-long trade war between the United States and China may be headed for a solution down the road emerged in Beijing last week. Officials met to build upon the fragile truce that US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping reached in Buenos Aires last December. At the month-end, their ministers will meet in Washington to narrow differences. If negotiations continue apace, a summit between the two presidents is likely. The world can use some good news. A new forecast by the World Bank estimates that global growth will slip to 2.9 per cent this year from last year's 3 per cent, largely because trade and manufacturing activity have softened. The American and Chinese economies will not be spared. In China, fears of a slowdown and wariness of the aggressive Trump administration have replaced the buoyant mood seen after the 19th Party Congress. Beijing has especially low tolerance for turmoil this year. The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and the 100th anniversary of the May 4 student movement may be seized by dissidents to stir unrest. Mr Trump has taken credit for the upbeat US economy but feels the sting from volatile stock markets. Farmers in the Midwest, an important part of the American electoral demography, took a hit from the trade war and are restive.
Conditions are thus ripe for a deal. China has been making concessions over the past few months. It reduced tariffs on car imports and agreed to buy more soya beans and other agricultural and industrial goods from the US. The Chinese have talked about "competitive neutrality" to level the playing field between privileged state-owned firms and multinationals. Unprecedented access has been granted to foreign firms, allowing Tesla to set up a fully owned factory, UBS to own a majority stake in a mainland brokerage joint venture, and Allianz to set up a wholly owned foreign insurance holding company. Several foreign firms have been given the leeway to build wholly owned manufacturing complexes. To greater scepticism, China has released rules to protect intellectual property, is planning a law to stop forced technology transfer, and no longer promotes its "Made in China 2025" blueprint. The US has demanded mechanisms to ensure that promises made are kept. From Beijing, there is a degree of concurrence.