White House optimistic on China trade; no date for more talks

Customers buy imported items at a store in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong province on Sept 19, 2018.
Customers buy imported items at a store in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong province on Sept 19, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States is optimistic about finding a way forward in its trade dispute with China, but it does not have a date scheduled for further talks as it assesses Beijing's response to the latest round of tariffs, a senior White House official said on Friday (Sept 21).

The official said despite its protestations, China was well aware of US demands it halt what Washington considers unfair trade practices.

US President Donald Trump has made clear his resolve on the issue, the official said, and the two sides remain in touch.

"We have been very clear in all of these meetings about what is ... required," the official said. "I am still optimistic that there is a positive way forward, and the president wants us to continue to engage to try to achieve a positive way forward."

Earlier this week, China added US$60 billion (S$80 billion) of US products to its import tariff list as it hit back at US duties on US$200 billion of Chinese goods that go into effect from Sept 24. The escalating trade dispute has spooked financial markets.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on condition of anonymity, the official made clear the administration's ultimate goal was not to separate the interlinked US and Chinese economies, but he said companies could choose to alter their supply chains if Beijing did not change course.


"Our goal here is not to cleave off the Chinese market from the US market, I don't think that's good for long-term growth," he said. "In the short term there is of course a risk that if China continues on the path it is, that some companies as a result of this may start... to move supply chains."

The official also said he hoped Canada would agree to join a US-Mexico trade deal by the end of the month, while saying he thought US lawmakers would support a bilateral deal with Mexico if that did not happen.

US and Canadian officials have been engaged in talks to modernise the North American Free Trade Agreement, a 1994 deal that underpins US$1.2 trillion in trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The official dismissed concerns separate deals with Canada and Mexico would have a negative impact on supply chains.

"I think it's overblown to say that if we have separate deals with these two, that there still can't be a really high degree of integration," he said.