US 'miles and miles' from resolving China trade conflict: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

 US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross takes part in a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on Aug 16, 2018.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross takes part in a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on Aug 16, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Washington and Beijing are "miles and miles" from resolving their trade war, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday (Jan 24).

A high-level Chinese delegation is due in Washington next week for talks to resolve the dispute by March 1, when US duty rates on Chinese imports are due to rise sharply, but Ross tried to tamp down expectations to those meetings.

"There's been a lot of anticipatory work done but we're miles and miles from getting a resolution and that shouldn't be too surprising," Ross told CNBC.

Wall Street futures suddenly fell during his remarks, which came a day after the White House contradicted reports the trade talks had hit serious obstacles. His comments also coincided with pessimistic policy remarks from the European Central Bank. Just after the open, US stocks were in mixed territory but mostly in the red.

As the world economy comes under increasing strain, the possibility of failure in the US-China talks has rattled global stock markets repeatedly over the last year.

Washington accuses Beijing of a host of unfair trading practices, especially theft of American technological know-how.

Ross said there was still "a fair chance" of reaching a deal with Beijing, but much work remains to be done since the dispute involves issues difficult to address in a short timeframe.


"I believe China would like to make a deal. I believe we would like to make a deal but it has to be a deal that works for both parties," he said.

"I'm trying to say people shouldn't think the events of next week will be the solution to all of the issues between the United States and China."

Washington and Beijing last year exchanged tariffs on more than US$360 billion (S$490 billion) in two-way trade, slowing the economies in both countries.

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Wednesday helped right Wall Street stock prices, denying media reports that US officials had called off a preparatory meeting this week due to a supposed lack of progress.

Despite President Donald Trump's hard line tactics, the US trade deficit with China has continued to grow, underscoring the extent to which American industry has come to rely on the Asian giant's manufacturing base.

Last year, China posted its slowest growth in nearly three decades, and economists say the trade war is sapping the strength of the world's second-largest economy.