SHANGHAI/BEIJING – U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators have said they plan to meet again in early September, after the latest round of negotiations ended with few signs of concrete progress.
U.S. officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer wrapped up talks with their Chinese counterparts, including Vice Premier Liu He, on Wednesday afternoon in Shanghai. In a statement, The White House specified Washington as the location for the next round of talks, and said the sides held “constructive” talks this week over “forced technology transfer, intellectual-property rights, services, non-tariff barriers, and agriculture.”
“The Chinese side confirmed their commitment to increase purchases of United States agricultural exports,” according to the U.S. statement. The negotiators from Beijing and Washington discussed increasing China’s import of agriculture products from the U.S. based on its needs and favorable conditions from America, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
Chinese state media on Thursday struck a united tone in commentaries, emphasizing that the two nations need to cooperate rather than confront each other, and repeating lines that trade talks are difficult and need to be conducted on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
The latest round of talks took place against a backdrop of a fresh outburst by President Donald Trump, who, as delegates gathered Tuesday, let fly at China’s perceived unwillingness to buy American agricultural products and said it continues to “rip off” the U.S.
The People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, responded to Trump on Wednesday with a commentary saying that China has no motive to “rip off” the U.S. and has never done so, but that China won’t make concessions against its principles on trade.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell addressed the drag from the trade war during a news conference Wednesday, after the U.S. central bank cut rates for the first time in more than a decade. “Trade policy uncertainty has been more elevated than we anticipated,” he told reporters. The secondary effects of tariffs, especially the knock to business confidence, have had more of an impact on the economy than the tariffs themselves, he added.
The Americans arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday and attended a dinner at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in the evening. A person familiar with the event described the atmosphere at the dinner as being all about rapport building, without substance on negotiations.
Relations between the delegates appeared cordial, according to the pool report. Xinhua said it was a candid, efficient and constructive exchange on major economic and trade issues.
China’s trade minister, Zhong Shan, played a more prominent role in the discussions than in previous rounds. His greater involvement had caused concern among some U.S. delegates as he is perceived as tougher negotiator.
On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing that it doesn’t make any sense for the U.S. to exercise a maximum pressure campaign. “Only when the U.S. shows enough sincerity and good faith can we achieve progress in the trade talks,” she said.
Expectations for a breakthrough in the talks have been low. The two sides are further apart than they were three months ago, when negotiations broke down and each side blamed the other for derailing attempts to reach a deal. China is pushing for compromise, with state media underlining this week that the U.S. should meet it “halfway.”
“I had low expectations and still I was disappointed,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, on Wednesday. Putting off the next round of talks until September is an indication that “no one feels any great urgency about reaching a deal.”
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping seem “happy now with the status quo” said Dollar, who added that he expects occasional talks to continue as the sides seek to prevent an escalation of trade tensions ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.