US-China trade negotiations enter tense new phase

The talks begin about a week before a scheduled increase in United States tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese goods.

US China trade war reuters
The 15-month trade war has damaged both the US and Chinese economies, prompting fears of global spillover [File: Jason Lee/Reuters]

Deputy trade negotiators from the United States and China have launched a new round of talks aimed at resolving the two countries’ 15-month trade war, with neither side showing any signs of giving ground.

About 30 Chinese officials led by Vice-Minister of Finance Liao Min entered the US Trade Representative’s office on Monday morning for two days of negotiations, to be followed by the first minister-level trade talks in more than two months. 

The White House officially confirmed that the high-level talks, involving Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, would begin on Thursday.

“The two sides will look to build on the deputy-level talks of the past weeks. Topics of discussion will include forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, services, non-tariff barriers, agriculture and enforcement,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

The talks are getting under way about a week before a scheduled increase -from 25 percent to 30 percent – in US tariffs on $250bn worth of Chinese goods. 

US President Donald Trump has said the tariff increase will take effect if no progress is made in the negotiations.

The two sides have been at loggerheads over US demands that China improve protections of US intellectual property, end cybertheft and the forced transfer of technology to Chinese firms, curb industrial subsidies and increase US companies’ access to largely-closed Chinese markets.

Impeachment, Hong Kong and soya beans

As Monday’s talks got under way, the US Department of Agriculture reported more soya bean exports to China, the latest in a recent flurry of buying by Beijing.

China has booked deals for about 3.5 million tonnes of US soya beans since early September, about 10 percent of its annual purchases prior to the trade war.

In recent weeks, the US-China trade situation has become more complicated due to an impeachment inquiry by US Democrats, who are probing a request by US President Donald Trump that Ukraine investigate business dealings by the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump also publicly asked China last week to investigate the Bidens.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday that neither the impeachment inquiry nor Trump’s request that Beijing investigate his political rival would weaken the US negotiating position.

Navarro told National Public Radio that Trump wants a big deal with China – or no deal at all.

Another complicating factor is US support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Trump has explicitly linked the trade talks to Beijing’s handling of the Hong Kong protests and preservation of the territory’s rights. 

A new US-China flashpoint ignited on Monday over a tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters by an official of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets.

China’s state broadcaster dropped the team’s games, and a Chinese corporate sponsor withdrew after Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong”.

He swiftly deleted the tweet and apologised to fans in China, where the Rockets have a large following from the years when Chinese basketball star Yao Ming played on the team. 

Source: Reuters