US to seek China access for beef, services: White House

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaking in the White House on April 10, 2017, in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaking in the White House on April 10, 2017, in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US trade negotiators will try to hammer out deals with China over the next 100 days to resume imports of American beef and to allow US access to China's closed services sector, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday (April 10).

Spicer said that US and Chinese officials were still at the early stages of "fleshing out" a pledge by President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to develop 100-day plan to help reduce China's massive trade surplus with the United States that was made at their first meeting in Florida last week.

Asked in a press briefing whether China had offered concessions on beef and financial services access, as reported by the Financial Times, Spicer said these sectors were among topics that US-China talks would cover.

"I think, obviously, beef exports and additional market access in China, intellectual property, the ability to have foreign ownership, especially in the services industry, is something that has been a big prize of US exporters and industry for a long time," Spicer said.

"But it is something that is being hammered out as we go forward."

Another Trump administration official said US trade discussions with China will cover a variety of sectors, and the meetings were just getting started.

Asked about the FT's report of beef and financial services concessions by China, the official said: "Two sectors is not considered comprehensive."

No decisions have been made to revive negotiations over a US-China bilateral investment treaty that were pursued by the Obama administration last year, said the official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about US negotiating plans.

China could become a massive export market for US beef if a deal could be struck, said Brett Stuart, chief executive of Global AgriTrends in Denver. He said the Greater China region currently imports about US$7 billion (S$9.8 billion) worth of beef annually - a figure expected to grow as China's middle class expands.

But China has purchased hardly any American beef since it conditionally lifted a longstanding import ban last year.

The ban was imposed in 2003 due to a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, in Washington state.

"We have yet to see US beef on Chinese tables," said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.