Sunday 24 February 2019

Trade truce hopes rise as China pledges to buy more US goods

Trade tensions: China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump who is said to be keen to strike a deal and help soothe financial markets roiled by the dispute. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Trade tensions: China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump who is said to be keen to strike a deal and help soothe financial markets roiled by the dispute. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Mayeda

The Trump administration wrapped up the latest round of trade talks in Beijing, noting a commitment by China to buy more US agricultural goods, energy and manufactured items.

China and the US concluded three days of talks yesterday with a cautious sense of optimism that the world's two biggest economies might be able to reach a deal that ends their bruising trade war.

In a statement, the office of US Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said the two sides considered ways to "achieve fairness, reciprocity, and balance in trade relations". Officials discussed the need for any deal to include "ongoing verification and effective enforcement," USTR said. The US will decide on the next steps after officials report back to Washington.

President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping have given their officials until March 1 to reach an accord on "structural changes" to China's economy on issues such as the forced transfer of American technology, intellectual-property rights, and non-tariff barriers. The USTR statement didn't say whether progress had been achieved on its main concerns.

People familiar with the discussions said positions were closer on areas including energy and agriculture but further apart on harder issues.

China was believed to be preparing its own separate statement on the talks.

Stocks rose globally after the US and China concluded talks and appeared closer to an agreement, with all major US equities benchmarks rising.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said a one-day extension in talks showed both sides are serious about the negotiations. Some disagreements remain on structural issues and they need to be addressed when more senior negotiators meet later on, according to Chinese officials involved in the discussions who asked not to be identified.

Later this month, Mr Lighthizer is expected to meet Vice Premier Liu He, Xi's top economic aide who is leading negotiations for China, a person familiar with the situation said last week. Liu made a brief appearance at the talks in Beijing on Monday, boosting optimism that China was serious about making progress on a deal.

The mid-level talks were the first face-to-face meeting between the two sides since their leaders met on December 1. Prior to the meeting, China made a number of concessions to US demands including temporarily cutting punitive tariffs on US-made cars, resuming soybean purchases, promising to open up its markets for more foreign investment, and drafting a law to prevent forced transfers. The negotiations were extended from the two days initially scheduled, according to the Chinese.

Mr Trump tweeted "Talks with China are going very well!" late on Tuesday in Beijing. The US president is increasingly eager to strike a deal with China soon in an effort to perk up financial markets that have slumped on concerns over the trade war, according to people familiar with internal White House deliberations. The S&P 500 Index has fallen about 7pc since Trump and Xi agreed on a 90-day truce at their meeting in Argentina last month.

Bloomberg

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