US, China trade chiefs affirm trade deal progress in phone call

Top US and Chinese trade officials agreed to meet obligations under a trade deal despite tensions over the coronavirus.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin greets China''s Vice Premier Liu He
China's Vice Premier Liu He, (left), spoke to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, (centre) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin over the phone on Friday regarding the countries' bilateral trade agreement [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

Top United States and Chinese trade representatives pledged to create favourable conditions for the implementation of the Phase 1 trade deal signed earlier this year and with the US saying both sides expected obligations to be met.

China’s Vice Premier Liu He talked with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone on Friday (Beijing time), according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Commerce. They also agreed to maintain communications.

The discussion occurred while tensions between the two countries are escalating, exacerbated by a war of words over US criticism of China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

US President Donald Trump and other top officials have blamed China for the deaths of hundreds of thousands from the outbreak and have threatened punitive action, including possible tariffs and shifting supply chains away from China.

The two sides agreed there was “good progress” made to meet the phase one agreement and that they expect to meet the obligations under the deal, the US Treasury Department and Trade Representative’s office said in a statement after the call.

The US Trade Representative’s office also said both sides “also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner”.

The negotiators also agreed that “good progress” was being made on creating governmental infrastructures to make the Phase 1 trade deal a success, the US office said.

Under the deal, China agreed to increase its purchases of US goods from a 2017 baseline by $200bn over two years, with about $77bn in increased purchases in the first year and $123bn in the second year.

But the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has dealt a sharp blow to Chinese demand and its economy is only starting to recover.

The two countries will continue to hold required meetings under the trade agreement via conference call on a regular basis, the US office said.