China, US hold 'constructive' talks to end trade war

China, US hold 'constructive' talks to end trade war

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pose for photos before holding talks at the Xijiao Conference Center in Shanghai. Photo credit: Reuters

Chinese and US officials held "frank" and "constructive" talks in Shanghai on Wednesday and agreed to meet again in September to negotiate a trade deal to end the ongoing trade war between the world's two largest economies even as their meeting was eclipsed by President Donald Trump's Twitter tirade against Beijing.

Since the commencement of trade war last year China and the US have so far hit each other with punitive tariffs covering more than USD 360 billion in two-way trade.

Trump kicked off the trade war demanding China to reduce the massive trade deficit which last year climbed to over USD 539 billion. He is also insisting on China to workout verifiable measures for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) technology transfer and more access to American goods to Chinese markets.

The 12th round of talks between top trade negotiators from China and US, the first after they broke down in May, lasted just half a day and ended with no sign of a breakthrough, but a willingness to continue discussions.

The talks were held in Shanghai, unlike the previous rounds which took place in Beijing and Washington. The abrupt end of talks sparked speculation that a trade deal was unlikely before the 2020 US presidential elections.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took part in the talks with a Chinese delegation headed by Vice Premier Liu He. The talks were relatively brief and the US officials left for the airport without speaking to reporters.

"The meetings were constructive, and we expect negotiations on an enforceable trade deal to continue in Washington, D.C., in early September," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in Washington.

"The two sides discussed topics such as forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, services, non-tariff barriers, and agriculture. The Chinese side confirmed their commitment to increase purchases of US agricultural exports," Grisham said in a statement.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said that the two sides "conducted frank, highly efficient and constructive in-depth exchanges on major issues of common interest in the economic and trade field."

Both sides 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", it added.

Trade talks between US and China started last November at the direction of President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, when the two leaders during their meeting in Argentina on the sidelines of the G-20 summit asked their officials to conclude a trade deal in 100 days.

The deadline was extended till May. It was resumed last month.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying in her media briefing in Beijing hit back at Trump's barrage of tweets against China.

Seen as an attempt to increase pressure on China, Trump tweeted on Tuesday saying his team is "negotiating with them now, but they always change the deal in the end to their benefit…."

Trump said China was supposed to start buying US agricultural products but they have shown "no signs that they are doing so".

"That is the problem with China, they just don't come through," he said.

Trump said that China is waiting for the next presidential elections and hopes that he will be defeated and then they can talk with his next Democratic successor. He warned that if he wins re-election in the November 2020 US presidential contest, the outcome could be no agreement or a worse one.

Reacting to Trump's tweets, Hua said, "the US is the one that has flip-flopped in the whole process. It doesn't make any sense for the US to exert pressure for maximum campaign. I believe the US should show more sincerity and good faith."

She also reacted sharply to Trump's comments that the Chinese economy is doing badly.

"You say Chinese economy is not that good. It is obvious fact that China's GDP in the second quarter is 6.2 per cent. The US GDP is lower (2.1 per cent). Who is better is very obvious fact. I believe the exercise of maximum pressure is not constructive at all. What matters is that we have to show sincerity, mutual respect and good faith to resolve our differences and concerns. I believe this makes the only right way forward," she said.

Commenting on the US ban on Huawei, she also took pot-shots at Trump saying that US business suppliers are now anxious to do business with the Chinese telecom giant which on Tuesday announced an increase of 23.2 per cent revenue year-on-year to USD 58.3 billion in the first half of this year.

"Increasing number of US business hope they can supply parts to Huawei. So I believe it is the American business that are the more anxious about it. We have full confidence in Huawei and it is the US that is most worried," she said.

The US has banned Huawei, the world's leader in telecom equipment and the number two smartphone producer, over concerns of security.

Reacting to abrupt end to the 12th round of trade talks, observers said China seems to be watching the US presidential race with interest, to see how it will affect trade policy.

"China has started to buy soybeans from the US, which could help Trump to counter domestic political pressure, meanwhile US tech firms have raised their voices to lobby the US administration to loosen export controls on Huawei," Wang Yong, a professor of international relations with Peking University, told the South China Morning Post.

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