China confirms top trade negotiator Liu He to lead US trade talks on Thursday

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He will travel to the US for trade talks on May 9 and 10, 2019.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He will travel to the US for trade talks on May 9 and 10, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - China's top trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, will visit the US for trade talks in what is shaping as a crucial week for the year-long stand-off after President Donald Trump ratcheted up pressure with plans to raise tariffs on Chinese goods on Friday (May 10).

Mr Liu will travel to the US for trade talks on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to a statement on the Chinese Ministry of Commerce website.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday (May 7) tariffs will not resolve any problems in the ongoing bilateral trade dispute between the two countries. Speaking at a daily press briefing, Mr Geng added that China hopes that the US will work with China to resolve each other’s concerns.

On Monday, Chinese authorities were said to be considering a delay to the trip by their top negotiators, according to people familiar with the plans.

The state of the trade talks were cast into doubt after Mr Trump's surprise announcement over Twitter on Sunday that he planned to raise tariffs on US$200 billion (S$272 billion) of Chinese goods to 25 per cent from 10 per cent because talks were moving too slowly.

The President said he may also impose duties "shortly" on US$325 billion of Chinese goods that are not currently covered, a move that would hit virtually all imports from the Asian nation.

The Trump administration plans to increase duties on Chinese imports at 12.01am on May 10, Mr Lighthizer said on Monday.

"We felt we were on track to get somewhere. Over the course of last week we have seen an erosion of commitments by China. That in our view is unacceptable," he said, adding that significant issues remain unresolved, including whether tariffs will remain in place.

 
 
 

China was "well prepared for other potential outcomes" of its trade talks with the US, "including a temporary breakdown in talks", the Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday. The door was not closed to talks even if the US raises tariffs, the newspaper said.

Mr Lighthizer and Mr Mnuchin told reporters on Monday that the Chinese backsliding became apparent during their visit to Beijing last week, but that they had been reassured by their Chinese interlocutors that everything would turn out.

That changed over the weekend when China sent through a new draft of an agreement that included them pulling back on language in the text on a number of issues, which had the "potential to change the deal very dramatically", Mr Mnuchin said. At that stage, about 90 per cent of the pact had been finalised, he said, and the Chinese wanted to reopen areas that had already been negotiated.

"We are not willing to go back on documents that have been negotiated in the past," he said.