Crunch time as high-level US-China trade talks resume

WASHINGTON (AFP) – With eight days left in their trade truce, top United States (US) and Chinese officials were due yesterday to return to the daunting task of bridging a chasm between the world’s two largest economies.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed the talks with Beijing are going “very well”, but concrete signs of progress have not been apparent in the three months since the two sides agreed to pause their trade war.

Analysts say the distance separating Washington and Beijing and the short time remaining before the March 1 deadline make it likely the outcome would feature banner announcements but would fall short of Trump’s most far-reaching goals.

“I think the consensus of people that have been following this thing is that they’re not making nearly as much progress as the President tweets that they’ve been making,” said former US trade official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies William Reinsch.

Chinese trade envoy Liu He led Beijing’s delegation in meetings with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other American officials yesterday. The meeting continues today as they work to head off an escalation of US tariffs. This fourth round of negotiations follow two days of preliminary talks at the deputy level.

Trump this week said a March 1 deadline to reach a deal was in fact “not a magical date”, raising hopes that he could delay the plan to more than double duties on USD200 billion in Chinese goods.

China’s party-owned Global Times late Tuesday warned raising US tariffs would amount to “a catastrophic strike” on global stock markets, which have been buffeted for months by the uncertainty and the prospects for slower global growth.

Since July, Washington and Beijing have hit each other with tariffs on more than USD360 billion in two-way trade, weighing on the manufacturing sectors in both countries.

Washington has demanded that Beijing reverse much of its industrial policy, charging that China has sought global dominance through the alleged theft of American technology, massive subsidies and the promotion mammoth state-owned enterprises. US officials have stressed that any agreement must have teeth to ensure that China keeps its promises.

Demands for structural changes likely will be far harder to resolve than complaints about the soaring US-China trade imbalance, which has hit record heights since Trump took office.

Trump has said the ultimate bargain will be struck at a meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping.

Reinsch told AFP the two sides were likely to strike some kind of bargain.

“I’m sure they’ll come up with something that will be more than cosmetic but less than we’re asking,” he said.