US trade negotiators to visit China on March 28-29


Beijing (AFP)

Senior US officials will visit Beijing for a new round of trade war talks on March 28-29, followed by a trip to the United States by China's top negotiator in April, the Chinese commerce ministry said Thursday.

The back-to-back trips come as Washington and Beijing battle over the final shape of a trade deal, with American officials demanding profound changes to Chinese industrial policy.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are returning to the Chinese capital next week, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a weekly briefing.

After their visit, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will head to the United States in April to continue the negotiations, Gao said.

President Donald Trump warned Wednesday that US tariffs on Chinese imports could remain in place for a "substantial period", dampening hopes that an agreement would see them lifted soon.

Over the last eight months, the United States and China have slapped tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way goods trade, weighing on the manufacturing sectors in both countries.

On Friday, China's rubber-stamp parliament approved a foreign investment law to strengthen protections for intellectual property -- a central US grievance -- but critics said the bill was rammed through without sufficient time for input from businesses.

The law was adopted barely three months after a first draft was debated, an unusually quick turnaround for the legislature, which meets once a year.

- Unilateral tariffs -

Beijing has also expressed willingness to increase purchases of American commodities such as energy and soybeans.

But analysts say Chinese officials will be reluctant to accede to demands that could weaken the Communist Party's hold on power -- such as fully exposing state enterprises to market forces.

Trump initially said he expected to seal any final bargain at a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month but that deadline has been pushed back as momentum in the talks has slowed.

US negotiators have insisted that any agreement have teeth -- including the ability to impose tariffs unilaterally should China backslide on any commitments to end alleged unfair trade practices.

"We have to make sure that if we do the deal with China, that China lives by the deal," Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday.

He also said the talks with Beijing were "coming along nicely".

Despite Trump's trade wars, the US trade deficit with China last year hit a record, as American consumers drew in foreign-made goods while weakened US sales of agricultural commodities weighed on American exports.