China, US strike positive tone in first phone call over trade
Published: May 27, 2021 09:46 AM
China US Photo: VCG

China US Photo: VCG

Chinese and US senior trade officials on Thursday held what both sides describe as "candid" discussion in their first phone call since US President Joe Biden took office, sending a positive signal that the world's two biggest economies are restarting communication amid growing uncertainties and lingering disputes over a wide range of issues.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He held a phone call with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, during which the two conducted "candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges with an attitude of equality and mutual respect," the Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

"Both sides believe that the development of bilateral trade is very important, and exchanged views on each other's issues of concern and agreed to continue to maintain communication," read the statement.

The statement did not share any details on the talk or trade development. But its characterization of the conversation suggests a positive vibe for the discussions compared with often tense atmosphere in some recent engagements between Chinese and US officials.  

For its part, the office of the US Trade Representative also described the exchange as "candid" in a statement and said that Tai also raised issues of concern. "Ambassador Tai noted that she looks forward to future discussions with Vice Premier Liu," the statement said.

This is the first phone call between Chinese and US trade officials under the Biden administration. The conversation came after Tai suggested earlier that she would meet her Chinese counterpart in the near future and as the Biden administration continues to step up pressure on China in a wide range of areas, including cracking down on Chinese tech companies and leaving in place punishing tariffs.

Although the two sides still have significant differences on many issues, the first call between Chinese and US trade officials under Biden could still be viewed as a positive sign that the two sides can at least exchange views on issues of concern, analysts said.

Lifting tariffs will be key issue to be discussed in later trade talks between China and the US, and while the process might be tough, the two countries are likely to reach consensus at least on incremental removal of tariffs, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who closely follows trade issues, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Despite mounting pressure on the Biden administration to remove the tariffs that are badly hurting US businesses and consumers, US officials have maintained the tariffs and Tai has described the tariffs as "leverage" for the US in negotiations with China. 

There are also different voices over the progress of the phase one trade agreement, with some in the US claiming that China is falling behind on commitment to purchase US products. 

"China has been pushing to fulfill its part of the phase-one deal, including further opening up its market, and better intellectual property protection," Gao said, "It has also been increasing purchase of US products, but the supply on the US side has been seriously hindered during the pandemic."

A senior industry representative told the Global Times in April that the US soybean sector is expecting record exports of about 36 million metric tons to China in the 2020/21 marketing year, as the China-US phase one trade deal remains in force.

As of April 1, China has purchased 2.6 million metric tons of US soybeans, smashing the previous record of 2.4 million tons for new soybean crop sales in 2015.  

Going forward, China and the US might have negotiations on specific categories when it comes to lifting tariffs and will set specific agenda on fulfilling the phase one deal in the second half of the year, as the epidemic situation is expected to improve in the US, Gao said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly stressed that the two sides should properly solve trade disputes but talks should be based on mutual respect and equality. They have also called on the US to stop cracking down on Chinese firms and remove tariffs.