Eager for trade deal

By Wang Cong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/13 22:08:40

US shows ‘gesture of sincerity’ at critical stage

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (left) waves to reporters as he leaves a hotel in Beijing on Wednesday. Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer arrived in the Chinese capital to hold a new round of high-level trade talks on Thursday and Friday. Photo: AP

China and the US will hold a new round of high-level trade talks on Thursday in Beijing, where a positive outcome is widely expected for the two economic powers to resolve their deep-rooted trade disputes, as an increasing number of signs point to major progress at the negotiations.

Several details ahead of the closely watched meetings, including the early arrival of US officials in Beijing and hints of the US side's willingness to delay a March 1 deadline, boosted optimism, but there are ways to go before a final deal could be reached, analysts said on Wednesday.

Eager for a deal

In a major shift of attitudes, US President Donald Trump suggested that his administration could consider not increasing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products from the current level of 10 percent to 25 percent, as previously scheduled, if talks go well.

"If we're close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal, and it's going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while," Trump said at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, according to the White House. "We want very much to make a deal."

Trump and other US officials had previously said that the deadline was firm and tariffs would be increased if no deal was made, with Trump tweeting as recently as January 31 that "tariffs on China increase to 25 percent on March 1, so all working hard to complete by that date!"

"It's a gesture of sincerity," Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday. "It means that we have reached a critical stage, where the two sides want to reach a deal." 

Another positive sign was the fact that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who lead the US high-level delegation, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, two days before the two-day talks were scheduled to kick off on Thursday.

"That these two arrived two days early has never happened," an influential blogger named Drunktrt wrote on Sina Weibo on Tuesday. "It looks like [the US] attaches importance [to the talks]."

Prior to the arrival of the high-level delegation, a mid-level US team led by deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish had already been holding talks with their Chinese counterparts since Monday. 

So far, officials have kept a tight lip on the ongoing talks in Beijing. But Drunktrt reported that the mid-level talks seem to have kicked off in good spirit, with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He showing up at the meeting on Monday.

Some media reports have also suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping could meet the US delegation later this week, as Trump did when he met with Liu at the White House last month.

Asked about the trade talks and the possible meeting, Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, did not offer any details, saying that once available, information would be released immediately.

Long process

Despite the positive signs, analysts also urged patience, arguing that given the intricate nature of the disputes, both sides need much more time to reach a final deal.

"As we approach the end of the negotiation process, it becomes harder and harder because it involves all the agencies and industries. Negotiations are very complicated," Chen said, adding that even if there is a deal, it could only address the issues at that stage. 

Trump also suggested that he might still need to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to iron out some tougher issues. "At some point, I expect to meet with President Xi - who I have a lot of respect for and like a lot - and make the parts of the deal that the group is unable to make," he said at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, noting that there is no meeting planned between the two before March 1.

Cao Heping, an economics professor at Peking University, said China wants to settle everything before committing to the meeting, saying that before agreeing to a summit meeting, China needs to make sure that it could hold its bottom line and not buy into constant tactical changes from the US.

"China should also weigh in on when to meet… we can't respond positively every time the US conveys some [positive] information," Cao told the Global Times. "Only when there is something on paper should our leader agree to see Trump."

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