BEIJING – Negotiators from China and the United States resumed talks on Thursday with a view to wrapping up a deal to bring an end to a year-long trade war.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrived Thursday morning in Beijing at the head of a delegation of senior officials for the two-day round of negotiations.
Shortly afterward, they met with the members of the Chinese delegation headed by Vice Premier Liu He.
It marks the first time the two delegations have met in person since a face-to-face in Washington in late February, after which US President Donald Trump said the two sides were very close to an agreement.
Trump even suggested then that he and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping might sign off on a final deal during a meeting at the US head of state’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, before the end of March.
Although the deal still has not been finalized, Trump said last week that the talks with China were progressing “very well.”
Throughout this month, negotiators have been in regular contact by phone and via videoconference.
A key sticking point in the negotiations is whether a rollback of all tariffs imposed by both sides will be included in the deal.
China is demanding that all levies be lifted, while the US has been resistant to completely removing the tariffs due to concerns that Beijing will not fulfill its commitments.
According to some analysts, Washington’s determination to keep tariffs in place even after an agreement is finalized has in turn led China to backtrack on some commitments it made in late February, thus complicating the process.
Trump said last week that some tariffs on Chinese products would remain for a “substantial period of time” to make sure that Beijing lives up to the terms of the agreement.
The US, which is seeking to reduce a large bilateral trade deficit and end alleged unfair trade practices, has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, while the Asian giant has retaliated with tariffs on $110 billion in US goods.
Washington has put in place 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese hi-tech and industrial goods and 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of other products, including furniture and construction materials.
In the negotiations, the US is seeking to ensure that American companies operating in China will be able compete in that market on an equal basis, enjoy guarantees of intellectual property rights protection and not be forced to make technology transfers to Chinese joint-venture partners.
The parties are working on the basis of a 120-page draft agreement that outlined the progress made at the end of February.
On Thursday, the South China Morning Post cited Michael Pillsbury, an outside adviser to Trump, as saying the talks have been marred by unnecessary friction and misunderstandings.
“Part of the problem seems to be that there is no Chinese-language text of the agreement that the Chinese delegation supposedly was agreeing to,” Pillsbury was quoted as saying.
Besides the trade issues on the table, external factors also could affect the outcome of the negotiations.
The conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and his finding that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 US presidential election could make China more likely to view Trump as a two-term president and make the Asian country more eager to conclude a deal soon.
After the negotiations on Thursday and Friday in Beijing, another round of talks will take place in Washington starting April 3 that could pave the way for a Trump-Xi meeting to sign off on a deal later that month.