Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Washington — On Tuesday, China called for US trade talks to be conducted on an equal footing, as Beijing’s top economic official is due in Washington next week for more discussions on a dispute that could trigger tariffs on billions of dollars of goods this month.

The visit by vice-premier Liu He — considered President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man on economic issues — comes after he led talks in Beijing last week with a high-level US delegation that made little headway in resolving the standoff.

The meetings follow a series of tit-for-tat threats of tariffs on billions of dollars of goods sparked earlier this year by US President Donald Trump, who accuses China of using unfair practices to gain an advantage over US exporters costing US jobs.

"China’s top economic adviser, the vice-premier, will be coming here next week to continue the discussions with the president’s economic team," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday. "The president has a great relationship with President Xi," Sanders said. "And we are working on something that we think will be great for everybody."

The negotiations could head off the threatened US tariffs targeting $150bn in imports, while China has warned $50bn in goods are in the line of fire.

Some of the US measures are due to take effect before the end of May.

China’s foreign ministry called the White House statement a "positive signal".

"We believe this shows the US wishes to reach a consensus with China on trade issues," ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular media briefing.

"Consultations on the basis of equality can resolve the differences and properly handle the China-US trade frictions," Geng said.

However, last week China said "big differences" remained between the two sides after the first round of talks. Leaks of the opening negotiating positions showed both sides digging in with hardline demands.

The row has fuelled worries about a trade war between the economic superpowers that has the potential to hammer the global economy.