Top US and Chinese trade negotiators held productive talks in Beijing on Wednesday, the American side said, as the economic superpowers head towards an endgame in a dispute that has hit businesses with bruising tariffs.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, a close aide to President Xi Jinping on economic matters, met with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ahead of possibly decisive talks in the US next week according to AFP.
The world’s two leading economies have exchanged tariffs on $360 billion worth of goods since President Donald Trump launched a trade war last year.
“Ambassador Lighthizer and I just concluded productive meetings with China’s Vice Premier Liu He. We will continue our talks in Washington, DC next week,” Mnuchin wrote on Twitter.
The US and Chinese officials posed for pictures but made no statements to journalists about the outcome of the talks after they emerged from their hours-long meeting at the Diaoyutai state guest house.
Liu and the Americans exchanged pleasantries before and after the behind-closed-door talks, joking about wearing the same colour red ties. The Chinese vice premier gave US Ambassador Terry Branstad a blue album with the Chinese state crest on it.
Mnuchin told reporters earlier that he had a “nice” working dinner with Liu on Tuesday night.
– Deal or no deal –
Liu is due in Washington on May 8 for the next round of talks.
Mnuchin said earlier this week that the negotiations were in a decisive phase, telling the Fox Business channel “there’s a strong desire from both sides to see if we can wrap this up or move on”.
“We hope within the next two rounds — in China and in DC — to be at the point where we can either recommend to the president we have a deal or make a recommendation that we don’t,” he said.
Mnuchin said negotiators were close to agreement on tough enforcement provisions in any trade pact.
The US side is pressing China to overhaul its industrial policy by further opening its market to foreign firms, stopping massive subsidies to domestic companies and curbing the alleged theft of American technology.
Beijing has made public displays of concessions, with Xi last week saying China would abolish “unjustified regulations, subsidies and practices that impede fair competition and distort the market”.
China has also passed a foreign investment law that promises to protect the intellectual property of overseas companies.
The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that Trump was dropping a key demand in the negotiations, with the US likely to accept a watered-down commitment from China on commercial cyber theft.
Such a concession could remove a major obstacle for a final deal in the fraught talks.