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China, US reach some deals in trade row but Beijing says differences still relatively big

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (C) and US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (2nd R) walk through a hotel lobby as they head to Diaoyutai state guest house to meet Chinese officials in Beijing on May 4, 2018.

[BEIJING] Top officials from China and the United States reached a consensus on some aspects of the countries' trade row, but disagreements over other issues remain "relatively big", China said on Friday.

A statement from the nation's state-run Xinhua news agency at the end of the talks gave little indication that there had been agreements on the biggest issues, stressing instead that there had been exchanges of opinion. The two sides, though, committed to resolving their trade disputes through dialogue, Xinhua said.

The Americans have yet to give their account of the talks.

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In one specific sign of progress, US negotiators agreed to bring up with US President Donald Trump the question of a ban on US companies selling goods and software to Chinese telecommunication equipment maker ZTE Corp after representations from the Chinese side, the report said. ZTE faced the seven-year ban after the US said it failed to keep to an agreement it made after breaching US sanctions.

The talks over the past two days have involved a high-level US trade delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Liu He, following months of threats and counter threats from both sides in a series of disputes over trade practices.

The US team has already left Beijing and is heading back to the US, a U.S. official told Reuters early on Friday evening.

The trade discussions had been "candid, efficient and constructive," Xinhua said, but gave almost no details on what the officials had agreed.

The officials exchanged opinions on resolving tariffs and non-tariffs measures, on expanding two-way investment and the protection of intellectual property, and on expanding US exports to China and bilateral services trade, Xinhua reported. It gave no indication of what actions might be taken based on those exchanges.

"My impression was that (the talks) didn't go well given the rhetoric," said Kevin Lai, senior economist at Daiwa Capital markets in Hong Kong. "I think the divide is still very big."

In an editorial on its website, widely-read Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times cited people close to the talks as saying the Chinese "hit back hard" at US criticism, letting them know that China won't give in.

The United States has proposed tariffs on US$50 billion of Chinese goods under its so-called "Section 301" intellectual property probe. Those could go into effect in June following the completion of a 60-day consultation period, but activation plans have been kept vague.

China has said its own retaliatory tariffs on US goods, including soybeans and aircraft, will go into effect if the US duties are imposed.

The US tariffs focus heavily on technology products benefiting from the "Made in China 2025" programme, which promotes the development of 10 sectors including aerospace, robotics and clean-energy cars.

A breakthrough deal to fundamentally change China's economic policies was viewed as highly unlikely during the two-day visit, though any signs of meaningful progress in the dispute could delay any punitive action from the US.