BEIJING – American and Chinese trade negotiators met Wednesday for talks on their bruising tariff war after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. side might be moving toward a decision on whether to make a deal with Beijing.
Wednesday’s atmosphere appeared amicable. Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, along with China’s economic czar, Vice Premier Liu He, smiled for photos and shook hands after their one-day meeting.
But they said nothing to reporters and no details were announced after the talks at a Chinese government guest house. Both governments have said they were making progress. That has helped to calm jittery financial markets.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the discussions “remain focused toward making substantial progress on important structural issues” and the talks would continue next week in Washington.
The U.S. wants China to roll back industry development plans it says are based in part on stolen technology and that violate its market-opening commitments.
Mnuchin said earlier that Wednesday’s meeting and talks next week in Washington would help American officials decide whether to recommend President Donald Trump agree to a deal with Beijing.
Trump raised U.S. duties on US$250 billion of Chinese imports last year in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Beijing retaliated by imposing penalties on $110 billion of U.S. goods.
The talks also cover exchange rates and possible measures to narrow China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States.
A sticking point has been American insistence on an enforcement mechanism with penalties to ensure that Beijing sticks to its commitments. Washington also wants to keep tariffs on Chinese imports to maintain leverage over Beijing.
Mnuchin told Fox Business Network on Monday that an enforcement mechanism just “needs a little bit of fine tuning.”
U.S. officials and businesses say China has failed to keep past promises concerning its trade practices.
Critics worry any agreement might hurt other countries by shifting Chinese demand away from them. They also worry it might marginalize the World Trade Organization, which is meant to enforce free trade rules for everybody.