By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes to re-launch trade talks with China after President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping meet in Japan on Saturday, but Washington will not accept any conditions around the U.S. use of tariffs in the dispute, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.
Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on another $325 billion of goods, covering nearly all the remaining Chinese imports into the United States – including consumer products such as cellphones, computers and clothing – if the meeting with Xi produces no progress in resolving a host of U.S. complaints around the way China does business.
The two sides could agree not to impose new tariffs as a goodwill gesture to get negotiations going, the official said, but he said it was unclear if that would happen.
The United States was not willing to come to the Xi meeting with concessions, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Washington wants Beijing to come back the table with the promises it withdrew before talks broke down, he said.
China has shown no softening in its position and said on Monday that both sides should make compromises in the trade talks and that a trade deal has to be beneficial for both countries.
The back-and-forth set up what could prove to be a tricky meeting between Trump and Xi at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka. The session will be the first time they have met since trade talks between the world’s two largest economies broke down in May, when the United States accused China of reneging on reform pledges it made.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has led trade talks for Beijing, held a phone conversation with his counterparts, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on Monday, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. The three men are helping to pave the way for talks between the leaders later this week.
Expectations for that meeting so far appear to be low. The best-case scenario would be a resumption of official talks, which could ease fears in financial markets that the already long trade dispute might continue indefinitely. The fears have pummeled global markets and hurt the world economy.
Trump advisers have said no trade deal is expected at the meeting but they hope to create a path forward for talks. Once negotiations resume, they could take months or even years to complete, the senior Trump administration official said, with some parts agreed early and others needing more time.
A resumption of negotiations could put that threat of further tariffs on hold, at least for now.
But if Trump sees no progress and decides to raise tariffs, the relationship between the world’s two largest economies would deteriorate further.
“I think if they go with the tariffs, the trade talks are dead. Period,” said one person familiar with the talks.
The United States has made clear it wants China to go back to the position it held in a draft trade agreement that was nearly completed before Beijing balked at some of its terms, particularly requirements to change its laws on key issues.
Beijing wants the United States to lift tariffs, while Washington wants China to change a series of practices including on intellectual property and requirements that U.S. companies share their technology with Chinese companies in order to do business there.
As part of the trade war, Washington has already imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, ranging from semi-conductors to furniture, that are imported to the United States.
The president has spoken optimistically about the chances of a deal.
The administration official said rounds of meetings between top trade officials from both countries likely would begin again after the G20 summit. He noted that although the vice premier still led China’s trade delegation, new names had been added to the list who could be hard-liners.
The official said Trump and Xi were unlikely to get into the fine details of the draft trade pact, although the case of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co may come up during talks.
Pressure on Huawei, which the U.S. government has labeled a security threat, has increased in recent days.
About a dozen rural U.S. telecom carriers that depend on Huawei for network gear are in discussions with its biggest rivals, Ericsson and Nokia, to replace their Chinese equipment, sources familiar with the matter said.
And the U.S.-based research arm of Huawei, Futurewei Technologies Inc, has moved to separate its operations from its corporate parent since the U.S government in May put Huawei on a trade blacklist, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Trump has indicated a willingness to include the Huawei issue in a trade deal, despite the national security implications cited by his advisers about the company. Meanwhile, U.S. parcel delivery firm FedEx Corp on Monday sued the U.S. government, saying it should not be held liable if it inadvertently shipped products that violated a Trump administration ban on exports to some Chinese companies.
The move came after FedEx reignited Chinese ire over its business practices when a package containing a Huawei phone sent to the United States was returned last week to its sender in Britain, in what FedEx said was an “operational error.”
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Jane Lanhee Lee, Tarmo Vikri, Andrew Galbraith and Angela Moon; editing by Simon Webb and Cynthia Osterman)