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Latest round of China talks 'productive': Mnuchin

US treasury secretary adds negotiations for a trade deal will continue in Washington next week

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Mr Liu (centre) with Mr Mnuchin (second from left) and Mr Lighthizer (left) after their meeting in Beijing on Wednesday.

Hong Kong

THE latest round of US-China talks wrapped up in Beijing on Wednesday, with United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling the meetings "productive" in a tweet.

Negotiations will continue in Washington next week.

"Ambassador Lighthizer and I just concluded productive meetings with China's Vice Premier Liu He. We will continue our talks in Washington, DC next week," Mr Mnuchin wrote on his Twitter account.

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He took part in a photo session with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mr Liu, and the delegations exchanged pleasantries.

The White House has ramped up pressure to reach a trade deal with China in the next two weeks, warning that the US is prepared to walk away from the negotiations.

President Donald Trump's acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Tuesday the outcome will be known in the next couple of weeks "one way or the other".

As the high-level trade talks between China and the US got underway in Beijing, China on Wednesday took another step in opening its US$44 trillion financial sector to the world, announcing plans to remove limits on ownership in local banks and scrap size requirements for foreign firms that operate onshore.

Among the changes, overseas insurance groups will be allowed to set up units in the world's second-biggest economy, the China Banking and Insurance Regulator said.

The rules are an incremental step along the path to opening China's financial system, months after foreign firms were permitted majority stakes in local securities joint ventures.

The move came as the Trump administration is making its impatience known after four months of intense negotiations, shifting from mostly optimistic messaging about the prospect of a deal to end their trade war that has resulted in tariffs on US$360 billion of each other's goods.

"It won't go on forever," Mr Mulvaney said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. "At some point in any negotiation you go, 'we're close to getting something done so we're going to keep going.' On the other hand, at some point you throw up your hands and say 'this is never going anywhere.'"

He also said there's no "fever" on the part of the White House to finalise an accord.

Following the next two rounds, US officials hope to "either recommend to the president we have a deal or make a recommendation that we don't," Mr Mnuchin had said in a taped interview broadcast on Monday on the Fox program Mornings with Maria.

A collapse of negotiations might reverse momentum in the US and China, dousing hopes that the world economy might be able to shake off trade-war risks. The conflict has weighed on confidence and dented shipments, with nine of the 10 gauges tracked by Bloomberg to assess the health of global trade below their average midpoint.

Mr Liu had entertained his US guests on Tuesday night just after they arrived in the Chinese capital. "We did. We had a nice working dinner, thank you," Mr Mnuchin told reporters at his Beijing hotel earlier on Wednesday, when asked if he had met with Mr Liu on Tuesday.

He did not elaborate.

Beijing and Washington have cited progress on issues including intellectual property and forced technology transfer to help end a conflict marked by tit-for-tat tariffs that have cost both sides billions of dollars, disrupted supply chains and roiled financial markets.

But US officials say privately that an enforcement mechanism for a deal and timelines for lifting tariffs are sticking points.

Chinese officials have also acknowledged that they view the enforcement mechanism as crucial, but say that it must work two ways and cannot put restraints only on China.

In Washington, people familiar with the talks say that the question of whether and when US tariffs on US$250 billion worth of Chinese goods will be removed will probably be among the last issues to be resolved.

President Trump has said that he may keep some tariffs on Chinese goods for a "substantial period".

The US has also been pressing China to further open up its market to US firms. China has repeatedly pledged to continue reforms and make it easier for foreign companies to operate in the country. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG