Latest U.S.-China trade talks called ‘constructive’ by both sides

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, at right, looks over as United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, third from left gestures near Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, second from left before the start of talks at the Xijiao Conference Center in Shanghai, China July 31, 2019. Ng Han Guan/Pool via REUTERS

By Brenda Goh and David Stanway

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. and Chinese negotiators wrapped up a brief round of trade talks on Wednesday that both sides described as “constructive,” including discussions over further Chinese purchases of American farm goods and an agreement to reconvene in September.

The first face-to-face talks since a ceasefire was agreed to last month in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies amounted to a working dinner on Tuesday at Shanghai’s historic Fairmont Peace Hotel and a half-day meeting on Wednesday, before U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flew out.

“The meetings were constructive, and we expect negotiations on an enforceable trade deal to continue in Washington … in early September,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

“Both sides, according to the consensus reached by the two leaders in Osaka, had a candid, highly effective, constructive and deep exchange on major trade and economic issues of mutual interest,” China’s Commerce Ministry said in a statement shortly after the U.S. team left Shanghai.

It was not immediately clear what, if any, further agricultural products China agreed to buy from the United States and when – an issue that had become a bone of contention after U.S. President Donald Trump said China had not made good on promised purchases.

“The Chinese side confirmed their commitment to increase purchases of United States agricultural exports,” the White House’s Grisham said, offering no other details.

Representatives for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Chinese statement said negotiators discussed more Chinese purchases of agricultural products from the United States, but did not say there was any agreement to buy more.

The talks began amid low expectations. Trump on Tuesday warned China against waiting out his first term to finalize any trade deal, saying if he wins re-election in the November 2020 U.S. presidential contest, the outcome will be worse for China.

Fresh fears over the trade war and concerns about a protracted fight with little near-term progress weighed on global markets on Wednesday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that she was not aware of the latest developments during the talks, but that it was clear it was the United States that continued to “flip flop”.

“I believe it doesn’t make any sense for the U.S. to exercise its campaign of maximum pressure at this time,” Hua told a news briefing in response to a question about the tweets.

“It’s pointless to tell others to take medication when you’re the one who is sick,” she said.

EARLY FINISH

The U.S.-China trade war has disrupted global supply chains and shaken financial markets as each side has slapped tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods.

An official Chinese government survey released on Wednesday showed factory activity shrank for the third month in a row in July, underlining the growing strains the dispute has placed on the No. 2 economy.

The Shanghai talks were expected to center on “goodwill” gestures, such as Chinese commitments to purchase U.S. agricultural commodities and steps by the United States to ease some sanctions on Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a person familiar with the discussions told Reuters earlier.

Those issues are somewhat removed from the primary U.S. complaints in the trade dispute such as Chinese state subsidies, forced technology transfers and intellectual property violations – all topics the White House in its statement said were discussed. China’s account of the discussions did not mention any of the non-agricultural issues.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in June at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, to restart trade talks that stalled in May, after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on major portions of a draft agreement. The collapse in talks prompted a steep U.S. tariff hike on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

The U.S. Commerce Department put Huawei on a national security blacklist in May, effectively banning U.S. firms from selling to Huawei, a move that enraged Chinese officials.

Trump said after the Osaka meeting that he would not impose new tariffs on a final $300 billion of Chinese imports and would ease some U.S. restrictions on Huawei if China agreed to make purchases of U.S. agricultural products.

But so far, U.S. semiconductor and software makers are still mostly in the dark about the administration’s plans.

In Sao Paulo on Tuesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said decisions on license applications by U.S. firms to resume some sales to Huawei could come as early as next week.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s nationalistic Global Times tabloid, run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, wrote on Twitter that the negotiators had “efficient and constructive” exchanges.

“The two sides discussed increasing purchase of U.S. farm products and the U.S. side agreed to create favorable conditions for it. They will hold future talks,” Hu said, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh, David Stanway, Yilei Sun, Engen Tham, and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, and Huizhong Wu in Beijing; and Roberta Rampton, David LAwder and Andrea Shalala in Washington; Writing by Michael Martina in Beijing and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Kim Coghill and Will Dunham)

U.S., China haggle over toughest issues in trade war talks

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (2ndL), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (Top-L) pose for a photograph with China's Vice Premier Liu He (2ndR), Chinese vice ministers and senior officials before the start of US-China trade talks at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators haggled on Thursday over the details of a set of agreements aimed at ending their trade war, just one week before a Washington-imposed deadline for a deal expires and triggers higher U.S. tariffs.

Reuters reported exclusively on Wednesday that the two sides are starting to sketch out an agreement on structural issues, drafting language for six memorandums of understanding on proposed Chinese reforms.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by March 1, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent. Tit-for-tat tariffs between the world’s two largest economic powers have disrupted international trade and slowed the global economy since the trade war started seven months ago.

Negotiators have struggled this week to overcome differences on specific language to address tough U.S. demands for structural changes in China’s economy, two sources familiar with the talks said. The issues include an enforcement mechanism to ensure that China complies with any agreements.

“It’s not surprising that this week has been more challenging,” said an industry source familiar with the talks. “Once you move from putting together outlines to filling out the details, that is where things would naturally become more challenging.”

Chinese officials did not answer questions as they left the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Thursday evening after more than nine hours of talks on Thursday.

The discussions began with a photo opportunity where U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He faced each other silently across a table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with Liu at the Oval Office on Friday, the White House said late on Thursday. The two also met at the end of talks during Liu’s last visit to Washington in late January.

Trump, who has embraced an “America First” policy as part of an effort to rebalance global trade, has said the March 1 deadline could be extended if enough progress is made.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters the memorandums would cover forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade.

The two sides remain far apart on demands by Trump’s administration for China to end practices on those issues that led Trump to start levying duties on Chinese imports in the first place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping would need to undertake difficult structural economic reforms to meet U.S. demands. The United States is offering no real concessions in return, other than to remove the tariff barriers Trump has imposed to force change from China.

PEN TO PAPER

One of Trump’s demands that is easier to fix for Beijing is to reduce the trade imbalance between the two nations. The U.S. trade deficit with China reached a record $382 billion through the first 11 months of 2018.

The two sides have reached consensus on how to alleviate the trade imbalances, several Chinese government sources said. Washington and Beijing are looking at a 10-item list for that, including additional Chinese purchases of agricultural produce, energy and goods such as semiconductors.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called China’s pledges to purchase U.S. agricultural produce premature.

“Those proposals are all contingent upon a grand deal,” he said on the sidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual forum in Washington.

“The real issue is structural reforms regarding intellectual property, enforceability of those types of provisions.”

The United States could quickly recover its lost agricultural markets in China if a deal is struck, he said.

Perdue has overseen $12 billion in federal aid to U.S. farmers for losses they have sustained because of the trade war. China had all but halted purchases of U.S. soybeans, which were the single biggest U.S. agricultural export, worth around $12 billion in 2017.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Lawder; Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Chris Prentice in New York and Michael Martina in Beijing; writing by Simon Webb; editing by Paul Simao, Richard Chang and Grant McCool)

Russia’s Putin, despite sanctions, still hopes for better U.S. ties

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin still hopes to pull Moscow’s ties with Washington out of a deep crisis, but nobody will go into mourning if this ambition is not reciprocated by the United States, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Moscow is bracing itself for a slew of new U.S. sanctions despite Putin meeting U.S. President Donald Trump at a summit in Helsinki in July, an encounter both sides said went well.

Initial Russian triumphalism after the summit turned sour however as anger over what some U.S. lawmakers saw as an over deferential Trump performance galvanized a new sanctions push.

The U.S. State Department has said it will impose fresh sanctions by the end of this month, while bi-partisan legislation from senators calls for other curbs to be widened.

Moscow is also bracing itself for potential U.S. measures designed to frustrate its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the new U.S. sanctions proposals were unfriendly, illegal and would harm world trade.

“Let’s wait and see what will happen, if anything,” said Peskov, saying any Russian response would be dictated by Russia’s own national interests.

“The Russian president is hoping for the best and, despite all this, wants to pull our bilateral ties out of the deep crisis they are in. He (Putin) still has that desire. But at the same time, nobody plans to go into mourning if our approach is not reciprocated by Washington.”

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)