Lighthizer tells Congress future US jobs are at risk over trade

US trade representative will speak by telephone with China's vice premier and chief trade negotiator in the coming days.

    The US is pressing China to change its practices on requirements that US companies share their technology in order to do business with them [Leah Millis/Reuters]
    The US is pressing China to change its practices on requirements that US companies share their technology in order to do business with them [Leah Millis/Reuters]

    The top trade negotiator in the United States said he would meet his Chinese counterpart to discuss a trade dispute between the world's two biggest economies before a summit next week in Japan between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China.

    Appearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he planned to speak with the top Chinese negotiator by phone in the next day and a half. Then the two are expected to meet, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Osaka before the Trump-Xi summit at the Group of 20 meeting from June 28-29.

    Lighthizer did not name his counterpart. But Vice Premier Liu He has led the Chinese delegation in past talks.

    Eleven rounds of talks have failed to resolve the differences between the world's two biggest economies. The US accuses China of using predatory tactics in an aggressive push to supplant American technological dominance. These, the US says, include stealing trade secrets, forcing foreign firms to hand over technology and unfairly subsidising Chinese tech firms.

    China accuses the US of trying to keep an emerging rival down. Beijing also is reluctant to scale back its aspirations to make Chinese companies world leaders in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and autonomous cars.

    Trump has pointed to the US trade deficit with China - a record $381 billion last year - as a sign that China is pursuing abusive trade practices. "We have a very unbalanced relationship with China, and we have one that risks literally the jobs of the future for America," Lighthizer said Wednesday. "So, it's very important that we get this relationship right."

    The US has slapped 25 percent tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese imports. The Chinese have counterpunched by hitting at $110bn in US products.

    "From the very beginning, China made it clear that we do not want a trade war," Wang Hejun, a senior official at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said on the Fox Business Network's After the Bell programme on Wednesday. "But China will give no ground on matters of principle."

    Until last month, it appeared that the two countries were edging slowly but steadily towards a deal. But then the US accused China of reneging on commitments it had made in earlier rounds of talks. Negotiations stopped, and the Trump administration rolled out plans to tax another $300bn in Chinese imports, extending the tariffs to everything China ships to the US.

    The threat of an escalation in the dispute has rocked financial markets and clouded prospects for the global economy. In seven days of hearings that began on Monday, hundreds of businesses are urging Lighthizer's office to rethink the plan to expand the China tariffs.

    On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he'd spoken on the phone with Xi and that the two leaders would meet in Osaka. But it's still unclear when the two countries' negotiating teams would resume detailed talks.

    "When actual negotiations begin again, I can't say at this point," Lighthizer said. "We're talking. We're going to meet."

    SOURCE: AP news agency