Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Chinese team heads to Washington to salvage trade talks

Published:Wednesday | May 8, 2019 | 12:11 AM
A Chinese flag flies in the distance as people walk by a globe structure showing the United States on display outside a bank in Beijing, Monday, May 6, 2019. Unresolved US-China trade talks have shaken investors and cast gloom over the world economy.
A Chinese flag flies in the distance as people walk by a globe structure showing the United States on display outside a bank in Beijing, Monday, May 6, 2019. Unresolved US-China trade talks have shaken investors and cast gloom over the world economy.

Efforts to end a US-China trade war are in shambles after the United States accused China of reneging on its commitments and prepared to raise import taxes on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

A Chinese delegation is headed to Washington to salvage talks aimed at resolving a dispute over China’s aggressive push to challenge American technological dominance. Negotiations are set to resume Thursday.

The setback in negotiations caught financial markets by surprise, and US stocks fell early Tuesday for the second straight day. For weeks, Trump administration officials had suggested that negotiators were making steady progress.

China confirmed Tuesday its economy czar, Vice-Premier Liu He, will lead China’s delegation, ending speculation that he would skip the talks or that the Chinese team would back out altogether.

The announcement suggests President Xi Jinping’s government is putting its desire to end a conflict that has battered Chinese exporters ahead of the political need to look tough in the face of US pressure.

The decision to have Liu take part in talks might keep alive hopes the two biggest global economies could make peace as early as this week.

The Trump administration is pressing Beijing to roll back plans for government-led development of Chinese global competitors in robotics, electric cars and other technologies. Washington, Europe, Japan and other trading partners say those violate China’s market-opening commitments and are based in part on stolen technology.

Trump’s announcement Sunday that he would increase tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on Friday caused global stock markets to plunge. Markets steadied after a Chinese spokesman said Monday that envoys still were preparing to go to the United States, though there was no word then whether Liu would take part.

STOCK MARKET

On Tuesday, China’s main stock market index rose 0.7 per cent and most other Asian markets also rebounded.

The American side is led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

A Commerce Ministry statement announcing Liu’s plans gave no indication whether other details, such as the size of his delegation, might change.

Washington and Beijing have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s exports, disrupting trade in goods from soybeans to medical equipment. Estimates of lost potential sales so far range as high as US$25 billion.

The decision to send Liu to Washington as scheduled shows China “urgently hopes to reach an agreement”, said Ma Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management.

“They couldn’t abandon it just because of a Twitter comment,” said Ma.

The conflict is testing how far Beijing is willing to go in changing a state-led economic model it sees as the path to prosperity and global influence – and how much power Washington will have to enforce any agreement.

The United States accuses Beijing of pressing foreign companies to hand over technology in exchange for market access, improperly subsidising Chinese firms and stealing American trade secrets.

No details of the talks have been released. But private sector analysts say Beijing is willing to change details of its plans so long as it preserves the ruling Communist Party’s dominant economic role.

The Trump administration has imposed 10 per cent tariffs on US$200 billion in Chinese imports and 25 per cent tariffs on another US$50 billion. The Chinese have retaliated by targeting US$110 billion in US imports.

Trump said Sunday he also planned to impose 25 per cent tariffs on another US$325 billion in Chinese products. That would extend penalties to everything China ships to the United States, its biggest foreign customer.

A stumbling block in the talks is US insistence on an enforcement mechanism with penalties if Beijing fails to keep its promises. The Trump administration wants to keep tariffs on Chinese imports to maintain leverage over Beijing.

Chinese negotiators have baulked at what economists say they might see as giving Washington too much control.

“It is not completely an economic issue,” said Ma. “After all, it concerns the rights of a sovereign country.”

AP