US trade official says ‘major issues’ still unresolved in China talks

US trade official says ‘major issues’ still unresolved in China talks

They may have left the spotlight of centre stage, but top trade negotiators from China and the United States continue to work furiously on the details of an agreement to resolve the countries’ deep-rooted economic stand-offs and end their prolonged trade war, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee on Tuesday, Trend reports referring to South China Morning Post.

Lighthizer, who is in charge of the US side of the trade talks, said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday that the Trump administration’s hope was that “we are in the final weeks of having an agreement – but I’m not predicting one”.

“There still are major, major issues that have to be resolved,” he added, “and if those issues are not resolved in a way that’s beneficial to the United States, we will not have an agreement”.

Lighthizer said he would hold another telephone negotiation with his Chinese counterparts on Wednesday, after a phone conversation with them lasted two hours on Monday night.

Chinese state media reported that Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He had a telephone conversation with Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at 7pm on Monday, discussing some key issues concerning the text of a trade agreement, without elaborating on details.

Lighthizer said at the hearing that he was on the phone “up to 9 o’clock” on Monday night and that the discussion went through many “very, very complicated issues”.

“We are working, more or less, continuously. I will be on phone again with them tomorrow,” he said. “If we have an agreement, it would be 110 to 120 pages. It’s very, very detailed and very specific.”

Asked whether a deal could be expected to emerge by the end of the month, Lighthizer said only that “we will see”.

“We are either going to have a good result or we are going to have a bad result before too long, but I’m not setting up a specific time frame – it is not up to me,” he said.

“The president will tell me when the time is up, or the Chinese will.”

As a gesture of goodwill during the negotiations, the US has delayed raising the tariffs levied on US$200 billion of Chinese products from the current 10 per cent to a new level of 25 per cent, a move that had been scheduled to take effect on March 1. There have been hopes that an enforceable deal could address persistent issues including technology transfers, market access, China’s hefty industrial subsidies and its failure to protect intellectual property rights.

Jake Parker, vice-president of China operations at the US-China Business Council, said China had incentives to reach a deal but was also facing domestic pressures for any agreement to “not be viewed as capitulation to the US”.

“We understand that any deal without a clear path for lifting the initial US$50 billion under the Section 301 tariffs was unlikely to be acceptable to the Chinese side,” he told the South China Morning Post.

Parker added that Beijing would regard a rollback of existing tariffs and a balanced enforcement mechanism as important parts of a successful outcome.

“From the business community’s perspective, the US government should avoid any enforcement or monitoring mechanism that risks another unpredictable escalation of tariffs,” Parker said.

Questioned by Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, about whether the US might lift tariffs on Chinese imports before seeing “hard evidence on the ground that the Chinese are changing”, Lighthizer said he would not comment in public about the precise nature of the negotiations.

Structural issues such as IP protection, forced technology transfer and subsidy issues were being addressed “with precision” in the talks, he said.

“That is not to say that we’ve come to conclusion, because we haven’t,” Lighthizer said. “But we’re making headway.”

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