Trade deal must include US tariff rollback says China’s Global Times

Kinling Lo

A Chinese state newspaper tweeted on Sunday that Beijing was insisting US tariffs must be rolled back as part of any phase one trade deal with Washington.

In a tweet which did not link to any related article, Global Times – a nationalist tabloid affiliated with Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily – cited unnamed sources and said a US pledge to scrap a new round of tariffs due to take effect on December 15 could not replace the rollback of tariffs.

Analysts said that, despite mixed signals from both sides over the prospect of reaching an interim deal, the tweet was a reminder of a main point of difference between the two sides that has been present in the negotiations all along.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said Washington was in the “final throes” of a deal aimed at defusing a 16-month trade war with China, a few days after Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his desire for a trade agreement. Top trade negotiators for both countries also spoke again and agreed to continue working on the remaining issues.

Trade experts and people close to the White House said last month, however, that signing of a phase one agreement may not take place until the new year as China pressed for more extensive rollbacks of tariffs. An agreement was initially expected to be completed by the end of November.

US Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley told reporters on Tuesday that Beijing invited US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for in-person talks in Beijing. Grassley said Lighthizer and Mnuchin were willing to go if they saw “a real chance of getting a final agreement”.

A source familiar with the trade talks also told Reuters that US officials could travel to China after Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

While Chinese experts said Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong bills presented by Congress did not help foster the first stage of a deal, Shen Dingli, a professor of US studies in Shanghai, said the core problem appeared to be a looping over certain issues.

“The principle that the two sides were able to agree on was just the principle that the issues need to be solved through different stages. But when they got to the details [on the first stage deal], and how to implement them, the two sides were again not able to reach a consensus,” he said.

Trump denies agreeing to roll back tariffs on China

Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the state-owned tabloid’s tweet suggested Beijing was more likely to dig in its position.

“China’s attitude towards its bottom line of requesting the US rollback all tariffs has been much clearer and stronger than the US stance of keeping the tariffs. Therefore, it points to whether or not the US is willing to compromise,” he said.

“This message seems to once again point to the mismatch of expectations to start with. Beijing has repeatedly asked for all tariffs to be rolled back because Beijing sees it as the beginning of the trade war and without the US doing that, no reasonable deal can be made.

“However, from Washington’s perspective, it seems their ground is rooted in the belief that China has taken advantage of them, and therefore they wish to start all negotiations from that point, seeing tariffs as something which came later,” Liu said.

Another batch of US tariffs is due to go into effect on December 15, putting an extra 15 per cent on US$156 billion of Chinese goods. China has said it will impose another round of tariffs on US$75 billion worth of US goods – including soybeans – on December 15, in line with the US schedule. This follows a tariff increase in September.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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