US-China relations: trade talks will take place ‘when the time is right’, says new US Trade Representative Katherine Tai

Andrew Mullen
·3-min read

A trade meeting between China and the United States will take place “when the time is right”, new US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has said.

The Office of the US Trade Representative confirmed Tai spoke to some 14 international trade officials during her first week in office, having been sworn in on March 18, although this did not include Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, China’s chief trade negotiator.

The phase one trade deal calls for the US Trade Representative to meet every six months with a Chinese vice-premier, although the meeting is two months overdue and no session has been confirmed.

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Last week, China’s Ministry of Commerce confirmed that it “had no relevant information” about possible US-China trade talks following a meeting in Alaska between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, China’s most senior foreign policy official.

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Tai, though, did confirm US tariffs on Chinese imports are set to remain.

“I have heard people say, ‘please just take these tariffs off,’” Tai told The Wall Street Journal.

But Tai warned “yanking off tariffs” had the potential to harm the economy unless the change is “communicated in a way so that the actors in the economy can make adjustments.”

“Whether they are companies, traders, manufacturers or their workers”, she added, “the ability to plan” for changes that affect their future is essential.

“No negotiator walks away from leverage, right?”

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Under former president Donald Trump, the US placed tariffs on around US$370 billion of Chinese goods, and Joe Biden said during the presidential election campaign that he would not make any “immediate moves” to lift the tariffs.

This was confirmed by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in February, who said the tariffs on China imposed by the Trump administration would be “kept in place for the moment”.

China pledged to buy US$200 billion in additional US goods and services over two years as part of the phase one trade deal signed in January 2020.

But the latest figures show that as of the end of February, China’s purchases of all covered products had reached 76 per cent of the year to date target in terms of Chinese imports and 57 per cent in terms of US exports, according to the Peterson Institute.

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