BEIJING/WASHINTON, D.C. – Top negotiators from the US and China are seeking to narrow differences on a partial trade agreement, but still have significant differences on key issues, according to US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. In an interview on Fox Business Network on Friday, Ross said US President Donald Trump had not yet agreed to remove any tariffs as part of a deal.
Ross also added it was important for China to specify a firm commitment on purchasing US farm products. People briefed on US-China trade negotiations stated that China’s reluctance to pledge a specific amount of farm purchases remains an obstacle in the talks, as is Trump’s reluctance to reduce tariffs.
Trump in October announced that Chinese officials had agreed to more than double China’s purchases of US farm products to around $50 billion annually, but Beijing wants to make purchases based on market demand. The world’s largest economies have been involved in a tit-for-tat trade war that is dragging on global growth.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were expected to participate in a phone call with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He which will be held on Friday evening Washington time. Beijing is insisting that tariffs need to be rolled back as part of any “phase one” deal, but Trump has not agreed to do that.
An interim US-China deal is widely expected to include a US pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for December 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports. However, Ross stated that Trump was happy to proceed with the tariffs if a deal could not be reached. The United States and China appear keen to de-escalate their conflict, at least temporarily, to avert a recession and boost growth in 2020.
For at least some US policymakers, any truce is designed to buy more time to complete the partial delinking of the US and Chinese economies and reorient global value chains away from China. Since early 2018, the United States has pursued a deliberate policy of attempting to hurt China’s economy in response to concerns about the shifting balance of economic power and “unfair” trade practices.