March 29, 2019 / 12:49 AM / 21 days ago

U.S., China report progress in Beijing trade talks

BEIJING/PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that trade talks with China were going very well, but cautioned that he would not accept anything less than a “great deal” after top U.S. and Chinese trade officials wrapped up two days of negotiations in Beijing.

China's Vice Premier Liu He (C) talks with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (R) and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (L) at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 29, 2019. Nicolas Asfouri/Pool via REUTERS

Both sides reported progress in the talks and China also approved majority-owned brokerage joint ventures for U.S. bank JP Morgan Chase and Japan’s Nomura, a step toward meeting U.S. demands for more access to China’s financial services market.

“The trade deal is going very well,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“It is a very comprehensive, very detailed enlisting of problems that we’ve had with China over the years,” Trump said of the talks. “And it’s going to have to be a great deal. If it’s not a great deal, we can’t do it.”

In an earlier statement, the White House said the two sides “continued to make progress during candid and constructive discussions on the negotiations and important next steps,” but did not elaborate on the nature of the progress.

The talks are set to resume next week in Washington with a Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were in the Chinese capital for the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides since Trump delayed a scheduled March 2 increase in tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

China’s state news agency Xinhua said the two sides discussed “relevant agreement documents” and made new progress in their talks, but did not elaborate in a brief report.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told Reuters in Malvern, Iowa, that he has been told the Trump administration is planning to complete a deal with China by the end of April.

However, Trump administration officials, including White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, have said the negotiations are “not time dependent” and could take weeks or even months to complete.

“We’ve made great progress on intellectual property, on trade secrets, on their government not forcing our business to give them our technologies and on currency manipulation, among several other things,” Grassley said at a farm event.

But the Iowa Republican, whose state has been hit hard by China’s retaliation against U.S. tariffs, added that without an effective enforcement mechanism to hold China to its promises, “none of this other stuff matters.”

Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports beginning last July in a move to force China to change the way it does business with the rest of the world and to pry open more of its economy to U.S. companies.

Though his blunt-force use of tariffs has angered many, Trump’s push to change what are widely viewed as China’s market-distorting trade and subsidy practices has drawn broad support.

Lobbyists, company executives and U.S. lawmakers from both parties have urged Trump not to settle simply for Beijing’s offers to make big-ticket purchases from the United States to help reduce a record trade gap.

LOST IN TRANSLATION?

Going into the talks at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, people familiar with the negotiations had said there were still significant differences on enforcement and the sequence of when and how U.S. tariffs on Chinese products would be lifted.

Analysts had anticipated the scope of this round of talks to be quite narrow, but that both countries hoped to signal they were working hard toward a resolution.

Reuters reported previously that the two sides were negotiating written pacts in six areas: forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade.

One person with knowledge of the talks said “translation is definitely an issue,” referring to discrepancies between the Chinese- and English-language versions.

‘THERE ARE GOING TO BE PROBLEMS’

There remains scepticism that any deal can permanently resolve U.S.-China trade tensions.

“Whatever implementation mechanism China agrees to, whether it is monthly or quarterly meetings or other check-ins, there are going to be problems,” James Green, a senior adviser at McLarty Associates who until August was the top USTR official at the embassy in Beijing, told Reuters.

Trump’s demands include an end to Beijing practices that Washington says result in systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property and the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese companies.

U.S. companies say they are often pressured into handing over technological know-how to Chinese joint venture partners, local officials or regulators as a condition for doing business in China.

The U.S. government says technology is often subsequently transferred to, and used by, Chinese competitors.

China says its laws enshrine no requirements on technology transfers that are a result of legitimate transactions.

Reporting by Michael Martina and Philip Wen in Beijing and Jeff Mason in Palm Beach, Florida; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, David Lawder in Washington and Tom Polansek in Malvern, Iowa; Writing by David Lawder, Ben Blanchard, and Tony Munroe; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Dan Grebler and Bill Berkrot

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