NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He is set to visit Washington on Jan 30 and 31 for further trade talks, according to people familiar with the plans, signalling progress in efforts to tamp down the dispute.
Mr Liu would meet US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to the people, who declined to be named because the details haven’t been made public. The visit’s timing could still change, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal reported the dates earlier.
Mr Mnuchin had flagged the trip to reporters on Thursday (Jan 10) in Washington.
"The current intent is that the Vice-Premier Liu He will most likely come and visit us later in the month, and I would expect the government shutdown would have no impact," Mr Mnuchin said, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill.
"We will continue with those meetings just as we sent a delegation to China."
As of Thursday, the US government is in the 20th day of a partial shutdown, with President Donald Trump, a Republican, and congressional Democrats feuding over funding and Mr Trump’s desire for a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Mr Liu is a key economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping and is in charge of the talks with the US. This would be his second trip to Washington to talk trade, after he had appeared to reach an agreement with the US in May, only for Trump to back away from it.
Negotiators from both the US and China expressed optimism after mid-level talks wrapped up in Beijing this week, bolstering sentiment across global markets. Liu made a surprise appearance at the first day of those talks.
However, neither side has give any detail as to what was agreed at the meetings. There are about seven weeks before the US-imposed deadline for a deal, after which President Donald Trump may order a resumption of tariff hikes.
Mr Trump has demanded better terms of trade with China, with the US pressing Beijing to address issues that would require structural change such as intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and other non-tariff barriers.
The President said on Thursday that the US was having “tremendous success” in its trade negotiations with China, though concrete details of progress have been scarce.
A spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office (USTR), the lead US agency in the negotiations, did not immediately respond to queries about plans for more talks.
More than halfway through a 90-day truce in the US-China trade war agreed by Messrs Trump and Xi, there have been few concrete details of any progress made.
Mr Trump has vowed to increase tariffs on US$200 billion (S$270 billion) worth of Chinese imports on March 2 if China fails to take steps to protect US intellectual property, end policies that force American companies to turn over technology to Chinese partners, allow more market access for US businesses and reduce other non-tariff barriers to American products.
China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday that additional consultations with the US were being arranged after the Beijing talks addressed structural issues and helped establish a foundation to resolve American and Chinese concerns.
Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters the two sides were “serious” and “honest”. Asked about China’s stance on issues such as forced technology transfers, intellectual property rights, non-tariff barriers and cyber attacks, and whether China was confident it could reach agreement with the US, Mr Gao said these issues were “an important part” of the Beijing talks.
“There has been progress in these areas,” he said without elaborating. China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfers.
Discussions on those issues were an extensive part of the talks, said people in Washington familiar with the discussions. Chinese officials listened “politely” to US grievances, they said, but responded by saying that the Americans had some issues wrong and misunderstood others, but that some other issues could be addressed.
“It was a cordial stand-off,” said one person familiar with the structural discussions. China has said it will not give ground on issues that it perceives as core.
On Wednesday, the US Trade Representative’s office said officials from the two sides discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity and balance in trade relations”, and focused on China’s pledge to buy a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured, and other products and services from the US.
The US trade agency said the talks also focused on ways to ensure enforcement and verification of Chinese follow-through on any commitments it makes to the US.
US and Chinese officials made more progress on straightforward issues such as working out the details of Chinese pledges to buy a “substantial amount” of US agricultural, energy and manufactured goods and services, sources said.
Since the Trump-Xi meeting in Argentina in December, China has resumed purchases of US soybeans. Buying had slumped after China imposed a 25 per cent import duty on US shipments of the oilseed on July 6 in response to US tariffs.
China has also cut tariffs on US cars, dialled back on an industrial development plan known as “Made in China 2025” and told its state refiners to buy more US oil.
Earlier this week, China approved five genetically modified crops for import, the first in about 18 months, which could boost its overseas grains purchases and ease US pressure to open its markets to more farm goods.
Big spending on commodities and goods would send a positive signal on China’s intent to work with the US but would do nothing to resolve its demands that require difficult structural change from China.