Latest on China-US trade talks

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Yi Gang,Liu HeChinese Vice Premier Liu He, center, accompanied by other Chinese officials, begin US-China Trade Talks with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet in the Diplomatic Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Complex, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Washington. Also pictured is China’s Central Bank Governor Yi Gang, center right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Story by Global Times

China and the U.S. are marching toward a landmark trade agreement to end their months-long standoff, as officials made important progress in their latest round of talks in Washington and paved the way for more talks, including a meeting between top leaders of the two countries.

Although the high-level negotiations at the White House fell short of a final deal, as many had hoped for, uplifting statements from both sides suggested that several consensuses have been reached over some delicate issues and a concrete agreement seems to be, for now, highly likely before the March 1 deadline.

Chinese and U.S. officials had “candid, detailed and constructive discussions… and made important progress for the current stage,” the Xinhua News Agency reported on Friday.

For its part, the White House also said in a statement that the talks “featured productive and technical discussions on how to resolve our differences.”

At a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who led the Chinese delegation to Washington, in the Oval Office on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump went further by saying the two teams made “tremendous progress.”

Multiple issues

The negotiations were focused on the balance of trade, technology transfer, intellectual property rights protection, enforcement mechanisms and other topics of mutual interest, according to official statements.

On IPR protection and technology transfer, the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation; on market fairness, China would “actively” respond to U.S. concerns, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

They also agreed that an “effective mechanism” to ensure implementation by both sides is important, Xinhua said.

China had also agreed to purchase more U.S. goods and services, including 5 million tons of soybeans from the US, although there was some confusion on the actual amount. Some media reports had reported that China would purchase 5 million tons per day before official clarifications.

A combine harvester in action harvesting soybeans

A combine harvester in action farming soybeans. (Photo from Dan Williams)

The discussions also focused on China’s “specific concerns” and the U.S. will “seriously” respond to such concerns, Xinhua reported, though it did not further elaborate.

China’s concerns may include the lifting of tariffs on Chinese products, canceling export controls on China and not interfering with China’s development of advanced technologies, said Mei Xinyu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing.

“If they agreed to move forward then that means the U.S. side must at least have an understanding of that and be willing to talk more about it,” Mei told the Global Times on Friday.

Moving forward

Officials indicated that they are moving forward with further discussions. In mid-February, a U.S. delegation, led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Secretary of Steven Mnuchin, will travel to China for talks, according to Xinhua.

But all eyes are on a possible meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

At the meeting in the Oval Office, Trump said he was looking forward to meeting with Xi and witnessing the historic moment of China and the U.S. reaching a trade deal, Xinhua reported.

Trump suggested that a meeting between him and Xi is necessary for a final deal before the March 1 deadline, saying in his tweet that “no final deal will be made until my friend President Xi and I meet in the near future.”

Asked about the potential meeting on Friday, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, said that Xi is also willing to keep close contact with Trump through various means.

The two leaders have kept in close contact even during the trade war, exchanging phones calls and meeting in person. Trump said on Thursday his relationship with Xi was “very strong.” Xi also sent a message through Liu, in which he conveyed his Chinese New Year wishes to Trump and his family and expressed the hope for a “mutually beneficial” agreement.

Such positive interactions at the highest level have played a major role in carrying the trade talks forward, analysts said.

“All of these talks are only possible if there are talks between the leaders,” said Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies in Beijing. “If the two leaders were to meet, it means there will definitely be a deal,” Huo said.

However, officials and analysts also expressed caution about a final deal. Trump said on Friday that there are “some points” the two sides don’t agree on.

“This is not over, there will be more discussions, and a risk that the talks will fall apart also exists,” Mei said.

For example, the two sides did not discuss the Huawei case, which has become a sticking point between the two countries, according to Trump.

“It will be, but it hasn’t been discussed yet,” the U.S. president said.

However, the latest developments show that despite deep divisions, the two countries could find ways to engage with each other, Mei said.

“Struggles will persist, but what we can do is to continue talks and avoid losing control. There is always room for talks,” he said.

Story by Global Times