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China, US plan face-to-face trade meeting in January

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A Chinese and US national flags hang on a fence at an international school in Beijing, China on Dec 5, 2018.

Beijing

CHINA and the United States have made plans for face-to-face consultations over trade in January, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, as the world's two biggest economies advanced efforts to resolve a months-long trade war.

Consultations through "intensive" telephone calls will continue in the meantime, Gao Feng, spokesman at the Commerce Ministry, told reporters, adding that talks have been steadily moving forward despite the Christmas break in the United States.

"Even as the US side is in the Christmas holiday period, China and US economic and trade teams have been in close communication, and the consultations are progressing in an orderly manner as scheduled," Mr Gao said, when asked about progress on trade negotiations.

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He did not comment directly when asked to confirm a media report on a US trade delegation visit scheduled for the week of Jan 7.

"The two sides have indeed made specific arrangements for face-to-face consultations in January in addition to continuing intensive telephone consultations," he said, without elaborating.

US and Chinese officials have spoken by phone in recent weeks, but a meeting next month would be the first in-person talks since US President Donald Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires on Dec 1.

Mr Trump and Mr Xi agreed to stop escalating tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods between the two nations. The two leaders also agreed to launch new talks while the US delayed a planned Jan 1 tariff increase until March.

In response, China has resumed purchases of US soyabeans for the first time in six months, even though hefty tariffs on US cargoes remain in place. China has also said it will suspend additional tariffs on US-made vehicles and auto parts for three months starting Jan 1, adding that it hopes both sides can speed up negotiations to remove all additional tariffs on each other's goods.

A US trade team will travel to Beijing the week of Jan 7 to hold talks with Chinese officials, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing two people familiar with the matter.

In yet another sign of reconciliation, China on Dec 25 issued a so-called "negative" list that specifies industries where investors - domestic or foreign - are either restricted or prohibited. The unified list is seen as an effort to address concerns from Western investors that there is no level playing field in China. Investment in key Chinese sectors, however, is still prohibited. On Wednesday, China unveiled the draft of a foreign investment law for public consultation. In it, China has proposed a ban on forced technology transfer and illegal government "interference" in foreign business operations, practices that have come under the spotlight during the trade war.

While China has frequently denied accusations of engaging in such practices, it has pledged to improve market access for foreign investors and better protect their rights in the face of growing complaints and reduced foreign investment. In an apparent move to emphasise reciprocity, the draft law said China would reserve the right to retaliate against countries that discriminate against Chinese investment with "corresponding measures". The draft will likely go through several readings before being submitted to China's parliament for formal approval, which could take another year or more.

Heaping some uncertainty in the way of the bilateral trade talks was the recent arrest of the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies in Canada at Washington's request.

US prosecutors accuse Meng Wanzhou of misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating US sanctions. Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei's founder, has said she is innocent.

Mr Trump is also considering an executive order in the new year to declare a national emergency that would bar US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by Huawei and ZTE, three sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

It would be the latest step by the Trump administration to cut Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp, two of China's biggest network equipment companies, out of the US market.

Washington alleges that the two companies work at the behest of the Chinese government and that their equipment could be used to spy on Americans. REUTERS