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US sets 2025 target for China to fulfil trade pledges: sources

The trade deal that the US and China are crafting would give Beijing until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases and allow American companies to wholly own enterprises in the Asian nation, according to three people familiar with the talks.

[WASHINGTON] The trade deal that the US and China are crafting would give Beijing until 2025 to meet commitments on commodity purchases and allow American companies to wholly own enterprises in the Asian nation, according to three people familiar with the talks.

Talks are continuing in Washington where Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He began planned meetings with US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday. The goal over the next few days is to strike an agreement on the core issues so US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping can hold a ceremony to sign a deal. Mr Lighthizer, Mr Mnuchin and Mr Liu held a working dinner Tuesday night, according to one of the people.

As the talks resumed on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump's top economic adviser touted progress but cautioned that a final deal to end the trade war remains elusive. Negotiators are "making good headway", White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters at an event in Washington. "But we're not there and we hope this week to get closer," he said.

Under the proposed agreement, China would commit by 2025 to buy more US commodities, including soya beans and energy products, and allow 100 per cent foreign ownership for US companies operating in China as a binding pledge that can trigger retaliation from the US if left unfulfilled, the people said on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Stocks in Asia were mixed in early Thursday trading after American equities edged up to a six-month high, as investors look for signs of progress. The offshore yuan held at 6.7131 per dollar.

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Other non-binding promises China has offered to implement by 2029 wouldn't be tied to potential US retaliation, they said, without elaborating.

The limited time frame raises questions about how much a deal would reshape the longer-term economic relationship, rather than simply serve as a political win for Mr Trump that would last through his potential second term as the 2020 election campaign kicks off. While some progress is being made, resolving more contentious issues such as the forced transfer of technology is taking longer.

China's Commerce Ministry didn't immediately reply to faxed questions. The White House referred questions to USTR, which didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

The White House is particularly focused on purchases commitments through the second quarter of 2020, in an effort to narrow the trade balance ahead of Mr Trump's re-election bid. People familiar with the talks said for that reason, the US is pushing for China to front-load a big chunk of the commodities purchases in the first two years the agreement is in place.

The merchandise-trade deficit with China hit a record US$419.2 billion in 2018.

The two sides are still haggling over how to enforce the deal, which Mr Lighthizer has said is the fundamental issue in the talks. In congressional testimony in February, Mr Trump's top trade negotiator said the US wants the right to take unilateral, "proportional" action against China if it fails to abide by the rules. A person familiar with the text said China so far agreed only to contemplate not to retaliate if the US took action against Beijing, but stopped short of a formal pledge to refrain from counter-punches.

One of the final issues is what will happen to the tariffs the two sides have imposed on about US$360 billion of each other's goods in the past nine months. Mr Trump has suggested that at least some of the tariffs will stay in place, saying they are necessary "for a substantial period of time" to ensure Beijing keeps up its end of the bargain.

The text will also include benchmarks, likely set at 90 days and 180 days after signing, by which China is asked to fulfil key pledges, two of the people said, without giving further details.

US and Chinese officials are still discussing when the two leaders could sit down to sign off on their trade deal. A meeting date between Mr Trump and Mr Xi could be announced as early as Thursday, people familiar with the plans said. After Mr Xi's team initially floated a formal state visit to Washington as an option, China has pushed back against a meeting on US soil and wants to instead meet in a neutral third country, the people briefed on the plans said.

While White House officials have expressed cautious optimism in recent days about securing a deal in the near future, a US decision to tentatively sell fighter jets to Taiwan may affect the outcome of this week's talks as well as any Trump-Xi summit, one of the people said. Given the geopolitical sensitivities of such a sale, that issue would likely be raised only when the two leaders meet and is unlikely to be part of the trade negotiations led by Mr Lighthizer.


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