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US, China officials resume critical trade negotiations

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Top Chinese and US officials met Wednesday in Washington to negotiate a resolution on a dispute threatening to plunge the world's two largest economies into a deepening trade war.

Washington

TOP Chinese and US officials met Wednesday in Washington to negotiate a resolution on a dispute threatening to plunge the world's two largest economies into a deepening trade war.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He led the Chinese delegation to the start of two days of talks taking place against a March deadline before Washington more than doubles tariffs on US$200 billion in Chinese imports.

The negotiators made no comments before journalists were ushered out of the room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex.

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US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who remains the most prominent advocate of a deal in the Trump administration, on Tuesday told the Fox Business Network he expected "significant progress" in this week's talks.

Administration officials and other people familiar with the state of play, however, say the two sides remain far apart on key issues, with the US side still engaged in an internal debate over how to proceed and ill-prepared for this week's meetings. The US' unveiling this week of criminal charges against Chinese corporate giant Huawei Technologies Co isn't helping the mood.

The talks between Mr Liu and President Donald Trump's trade tsar, Robert Lighthizer, are the highest-level negotiations since the two leaders sat down for dinner on Dec 1. They come in the wake of lower-level talks this month in Beijing and after a period of market turmoil that has left both governments eager to publicly claim progress to calm investors' nerves.

In a sign of the importance the White House is placing on the talks, Mr Trump is expected to meet Mr Liu while he's in Washington. In addition to US demands for structural reforms in China's economic policy and key concessions on issues such as intellectual property, the latest round of talks will cover Beijing's pledge to buy more American goods.

China has also revealed how critical the talks are, with lawmakers fast-tracking approval of a law that would ban forced technology transfers and protect the intellectual property of foreign investors.

People familiar with the US internal discussions, however, say Mr Trump appears to want to strike a deal. But just how to craft a deal that's politically acceptable in an increasingly hawkish Washington remains unclear, people familiar with the discussions said. Too many issues are on the table, leading to what some see as a potential gridlock in the talks. AFP, BLOOMBERG