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US, China to hold more trade talks after 'frank, constructive' meeting

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From left: US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at their first face-to-face negotiations since a trade war truce was declared last month.

Shanghai

THE US and Chinese negotiators agreed to meet again in the United States in September after holding "frank" and "constructive" talks in Shanghai on Wednesday, state media said following meetings overshadowed by a Twitter tirade from President Donald Trump.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Vice Premier Liu He in the Chinese financial hub for the first face-to-face negotiations since a trade war truce was declared last month.

"The two sides conducted frank, highly efficient and constructive in-depth exchanges on major issues of common interest in the economic and trade field," according to the official Xinhua news agency, adding that the purchase of US agricultural goods by China was discussed.

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Washington and Beijing have so far hit each other with punitive tariffs covering more than US$360 billion in two-way trade in a row centred on demands for China to curb the alleged theft of American technology and provide a level playing field to US companies.

The negotiators shook hands and exchanged pleasantries when they met on Wednesday morning and then held talks for around four hours behind closed doors. The talks were relatively brief and the negotiators emerged later, a little earlier than expected, for a group photo before the US trade officials left for the airport without speaking to reporters.

Talks had broken down in May after Mr Trump accused China of reneging on its commitments, but the US leader and President Xi Jinping agreed to a truce in June.

Mr Lighthizer and Mr Mnuchin had arrived on Tuesday and joined Chinese officials for dinner and informal discussions - just as Mr Trump lambasted the Chinese side on Twitter, saying "they always change the deal in the end to their benefit". The US leader said Beijing was supposed to start buying US agricultural products but they had shown "no signs that they are doing so".

Xinhua said on Wednesday the negotiators discussed "the issue of China increasing its purchases of US agricultural products according to its domestic needs" and the US creating "favourable conditions for these purchases". Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, who is considered a tough negotiator and who has taken a more prominent role in the talks, was among the Chinese officials at the meeting. "The two sides will hold the next round of high-level economic and trade consultations in the United States in September," Xinhua said.

Jake Parker, senior vice president at the US-China Business Council, said: "We are pleased the two sides agreed to move forward with agriculture purchases to provide some much needed relief to American farmers. We hope the negotiators will continue to take a pragmatic and realistic approach to compromise and reach a conclusion that leads to greater market access for foreign companies, improves the protection and enforcement of intellectual property, and ultimately levels the playing field for foreign companies operating in the market."

At a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman made it clear which side China saw as responsible for the ongoing trade impasse. "When one is ill, it is useless to ask someone else to take the medicine," said Hua Chunying, when asked about the talks wrapping up in Shanghai. AFP