Talks with China at 'confidence building' stage, says US trade representative Robert Lighthizer

Jamie Dimon, the highly-regarded CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said Wednesday he hoped the US and China can come to a trade agreement but wasn't optimistic on the timing.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listens to US President Donald Trump at the White House.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer listens to US President Donald Trump at the White House.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON  - Talks with China are currently at a stage of "confidence building" and showing good will, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters in New York on Wednesday (Sept 25).

“We'll do that and see how it works out. I'm not going to pre-judge,” he said, according to the White House media pool report.

China and the United States held deputy level talks last week, and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He is expected in Washington in early October. 

Most analysts had low expectations of last week's talks, notwithstanding small olive branches between them - delaying the implementation of certain tariffs, and in the case of China buying soybeans from the US.  

The US Trade Representative was speaking to White House pool reporters soon after President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meeting in New York where they are attending the United Nations General Assembly signed two agreements to “rebalance” trade. 

Under a market access agreement, Japan will open its markets to approximately US$7 billion (S$9 billion) in American agricultural exports and more. A separate agreement sets “high-standard and comprehensive provisions addressing priority areas of digital trade.”  

Among other measures, the agreement frees up the flow and exchange of digital products like music, e-books, software and games, ensuring cross-border barrier-free data transfers in all sectors. And it prohibits data localisation requirements, including for financial service suppliers.

The agreement covered US$40 billion worth of digital trade, Mr Lighthizer said.

Automobiles – a major component of US-Japan trade and one that concerns the Trump administration which wants free access to the Japanese market for American vehicles – was not covered by the agreements, he said.

“Certainly, it’s the Japanese ambition to have car tariffs be discussed,” he said. “At this point, it’s not part of this agreement.” And at this point, it was not the US’ intention to put tariffs on automobiles from Japan, he added.

There would be a “second stage” which would comprise an entire free trade agreement, Mr Lighthizer said, echoing the White House, which in a statement said: “In the months ahead, the United States will engage in further negotiations in the interest of achieving a final, comprehensive trade deal.”

Myron Brilliant, executive vice-president and head of International Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, in a statement said: "Today’s news will spur economic growth and boost sales on both sides of the Pacific, especially for American farmers and ranchers and the digital economy.”

But it is not enough, he said.

“The Chamber strongly urges the administration to hold fast to its commitment to achieve a comprehensive, high-standard trade agreement with Japan that addresses the full range of our trade priorities, including services, intellectual property protection, and regulatory barriers” it said.

"A comprehensive trade deal with Japan would provide some much needed predictability - not only for the US and Japan but for all our trade allies.”