US considers resuming semi-annual dialogues with China

The idea of semi-annual discussions with China is being advocated by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks - if they go ahead - would be separate from "phase two" negotiations on a further trade
The idea of semi-annual discussions with China is being advocated by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks - if they go ahead - would be separate from "phase two" negotiations on a further trade deal.

US Treasury Department pushing for regular talks to be revived, according to sources

WASHINGTON • The United States Treasury Department is proposing that the Trump administration revive twice-yearly talks with China to discuss the economic relationship between the countries, according to people familiar with the matter.

The talks - if they go ahead - would be separate from "phase two" negotiations on a further trade deal that President Donald Trump has said he wants to start "right away". The two sides are slated to sign a "phase one" agreement on Wednesday that includes commitments from China to buy US farm products and other goods in exchange for some reductions in tariffs on Chinese imports.

The idea of semi-annual discussions is being advocated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the sources said. It harks back to the strategic economic dialogue started in 2006 when Mr George W. Bush was president. That effort was spearheaded on the US side by then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and included high-level representatives from other US government agencies, including the Commerce and Energy departments.

The meetings were designed to examine long-term strategic issues and provide a framework for separate talks on individual economic disputes such as China's currency policy. Then President Barack Obama expanded the initiative in 2009 to include national security and designated his secretaries of the Treasury and the State Department to head it.

China critics in the US have derided the dialogues for having failed in the past to result in any major changes in China's economic policies. Mr Trump himself regularly belittles past administrations' dealings with China, arguing that he is the first US leader to tackle what he sees as China's predatory trade and economic policies.

Dow Jones reported earlier that the two nations plan to announce that they will resume semi-annual talks at the signing of an initial trade deal set for Wednesday in Washington, citing an unidentified administration official and other people familiar with the matter.

But people familiar with internal deliberations said that while Mr Mnuchin proposed the idea, it was not yet a done deal and faced opposition from some members of the administration.

Mr Mnuchin would lead the US side, while the Chinese efforts would probably be headed by VicePremier Liu He, according to the Dow Jones report. The semi-annual talks would also be separate from meetings to negotiate any second phase of a trade deal between the two countries, that report said.

A spokesman for the Treasury Department declined to comment.

 
 
 
 

Foreign policy and trade experts who worked for previous US administrations praised the prospect of resuming regular dialogues.

"Issues between US and China are tough and tariffs proved not to be the silver bullet," Ms Wendy Cutler, vice-president at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former negotiator in the Office of the US Trade Representative, said in a tweet.

Hawks inside the administration who advocate for a tougher position on China see resuming anything like the dialogues in past administrations as a mistake, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

Such a move could undermine negotiations for a "phase two" trade deal, said the person, who declined to be named because the discussions are private.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'US considers resuming semi-annual dialogues with China'. Print Edition | Subscribe