China’s lead negotiator puts ‘trade balance’ at top of agenda as Trump flirts with idea of ‘interim deal’

Zhou Xin

China’s top trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, has named the top items on the agenda for talks in Washington next month as the US-China “trade balance, market entry and investor protection”.

The comments suggest that China will steer talks clear of more challenging issues such as structural reform and security issues, focusing instead on less deep-rooted issues such as purchases of American agricultural goods.

Liu, the top economic aide to President Xi Jinping, made the comments in Beijing on Thursday during a meeting with Evan Greenberg, president of the US-China Business Council, a lobby group, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Liu said a working level meeting will be held next week to lay the ground for the Washington talks in October and added that China welcomed US President Donald Trump’s move to postpone the planned increase in tariffs by two weeks. Trump said the request to postpone was made by Liu, but Beijing has not confirmed this.

“The whole world is expecting to see progress in China-US negotiations,” Liu said, according to Xinhua.

After months of harsh rhetoric, Beijing and Washington have been exchanging more positive messages this week, fanning expectations that the trade talks next week may yield an “interim deal” that involves China’s buying US farm goods and the US’s postponing, or even scaling back, some of the tariffs.

“I’d rather get the whole deal done,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I see a lot of analysts are saying an interim deal, meaning we’ll do pieces of it, the easy ones first. But there’s no easy or hard. There’s a deal or there’s not a deal.

But for an interim deal, Trump said “it’s something we would consider, I guess”.

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, China’s Ministry of Commerce said that Chinese buyers have made enquiries about the prices of US agricultural products, including soybeans and pork.

The Wall Street Journal reported that China is trying to narrow the scope of its negotiations with the US to include only trade matters, leaving thornier issues of national security on a separate track.

Soybean purchases are reported to be high on the agenda of US negotiators, ahead of trade talks in October and interim talks in the next week. Photo: Reuters

Bloomberg reported earlier that Trump administration is considering offering a “limited” trade deal to China that involves delaying and even rolling back some US tariffs in exchange for Chinese purchases of US goods and commitment on intellectual property rights.

At the same time, CNBC quoted an unidentified “senior White House official” as saying that an interim deal with China was “absolutely not” on the table, showing the debate within the Trump administration.

Earlier this week, Jin Canrong, an international relations professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, wrote on his social media account that a deal is possible, but only if Washington is able to drop the final 20 per cent of American demands currently on the table which are “impossible” for Beijing to agree to.

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