Chinese President Xi Jinping. REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping. REUTERS

Beijing — The US and China on Friday hailed “progress” after another round of high-stakes trade talks, but with major issues unresolved there were scant details as a March 1 deadline drew nearer.  

US duty rates on more than $200bn in Chinese exports are due to more than double in two weeks, an unwelcome shock to a slowing global economy. US President Donald Trump has suggested he may extend the deadline but has offered no firm guarantee.

A fourth round in the negotiations is set for next week in Washington.

“The consultations between the two teams have made important step-by-step progress,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told top US and Chinese trade negotiators after two days of high-level talks wrapped up in Beijing, according to China's official news agency Xinhua.

Xi said he hoped the two delegations would continue to work hard for a win-win agreement.

While US officials also spoke of progress, the White House said on Friday “much work remains”.

Wall Street was cheered by the talks’ optimistic tone, with the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 300 points shortly after the start of trading in New York.

US officials accuse Beijing of seeking global industrial predominance through an array of alleged dishonest and unfair trade practices, including the “theft” of American intellectual property and massive state intervention in commodities markets, among other charges.

Since a December detente China has resumed purchases of some US soya beans and dangled huge buying of commodities to get US trade negotiators closer to a deal.

Purchases to reduce the “large and persistent bilateral trade deficit” were discussed, the White House press secretary statement said.

But many China experts say Beijing’s Communist Party rulers are unlikely to make significant changes to industrial policies without a long and tough fight. Still, expectations for an accord have been growing as China faces pressure from slowing economic growth.

'Broad common interests' 

“We all believe that China-US relations have broad common interests in safeguarding world peace and stability and promoting global economic prosperity and development,” Xi told the US negotiators.

US trade representative Robert Lighthizer told Xi on Friday that while there was more work to do, they had made progress.

Lighthizer and Xi were joined by treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and other US officials seated across from China’s top trade negotiator Liu He, foreign minister Wang Yi and central bank chief Yi Gang.

The high-level negotiations in Beijing kicked off soon after Trump suggested that he was open to extending his March 1 deadline for China to make concessions before resuming the tariff onslaught. Bloomberg News reported that a 60-day postponement was being considered to allow more time for negotiations.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, had earlier said “the vibe is good” in characterising the talks but he said there was no decision yet on extending Trump’s 90-day tariff truce.

The two sides have since last year exchanged tariffs on more than $360bn in two-way trade. China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the US in 2018 hit a record $323.3bn as the tit-for-tat tariffs kept Chinese buyers away from US agricultural and energy exports.

Trump has said that any eventual trade deal would need to be sealed personally between him and Xi at a summit meeting.
AFP