US negotiators to return to China next week, says official

US-China trade talks aimed at ending a damaging tariff war will resume from today, the White House has announced. — AFP file pic
US-China trade talks aimed at ending a damaging tariff war will resume from today, the White House has announced. — AFP file pic

WASHINGTON, March 20 — US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will return to Beijing next week as the United States and China inch toward resolving their trade war, a senior administration official told AFP yesterday.

The renewed shuttle diplomacy is a sign of progress in the talks after several weeks in which momentum toward a resolution appeared to have slowed.

Following the next week’s talks in Beijing, Chinese trade envoy Liu He will return to Washington the following week, The Wall Street Journal reported, adding that officials said talks were in their final stages.

US President Donald Trump told reporters the meetings were going “very well,” reiterating the positive message of recent months.

But Trump also said last week that he was in “no rush” to strike a bargain, insisting any deal had to do more than make cosmetic changes and adding that an outcome one way or the other was likely to occur in “three to four weeks.”

US and Chinese officials in recent weeks have alternated between projecting optimism and warning that they still have much to do.

On Friday, China’s rubber-stamp parliament approved a foreign investment law to strengthen protections for intellectual property — a central US grievance — but foreign businesses said they were not given enough time to add input.

Far-reaching changes

The bill will eliminate the requirement for foreign enterprises to transfer proprietary technology to Chinese joint-venture partners and protect against “illegal government interference” — major sticking points in the trade negotiations.

The law was adopted barely three months after a first draft was debated, an unusually quick turnaround for the legislature, which meets once a year.

Word of the new round of talks briefly helped lift Wall Street after stock prices had begun to sag following reporting by Bloomberg that some US officials said China was reneging on earlier trade concessions. But stocks pared earlier gains, finishing little changed.

US officials are demanding far-reaching changes to Chinese industrial policy — including an end to massive state intervention in markets, subsidies and the alleged theft of American technology — and insist that any agreement must be enforceable.

China has been willing to increase purchases of American commodities such as energy and soybeans but analysts say they will be reluctant to accede to American demands in ways that could weaken the communist party’s hold on power — such as fully exposing state enterprises to market forces.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg also reported that, following recent deadly crashes, Chinese officials were considering excluding Boeing’s 737 MAX jets from the list of US goods Beijing plans to buy more of in an effort to draw down China’s soaring trade surplus with the United States.

The two sides have exchanged tariffs on more than US$360 billion (RM1.47 trillion) in bilateral trade. Lighthizer has declined to state publicly whether Washington would lift the tariffs it has imposed so far if both sides reach a deal.

In congressional testimony last week, he said China and the United States were reaching the end of the road but he stopped short of predicting success.

Lighthizer has insisted that the United States will retain the power to take “proportional action” should China fail to live up to its end of the ultimate bargain. — AFP

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