The top U.S. trade negotiator said on June 19 that it is in the interests of China and the United States to have a successful trade pact, and he expects to meet with a senior Chinese official ahead of next week’s G20 summit in Japan where President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, testifying at a congressional hearing of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said he and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will meet with Liu He, China’s vice premier and chief negotiator in the trade talks, ahead of the G20 summit in Japan.
The United States and China are locked in a trade war, which escalated in early May when President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods after accusing the Chinese regime of backtracking on commitments negotiated over months of negotiations.
Since then, Trump has threatened to impose additional tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods, but said he would decide on this issue after meeting with Xi at the G20 summit.
It is unclear when the U.S.-China trade negotiations will restart but the United States is “certainly willing to engage” with China in the discussions, Lighthizer told the committee.
“We have a very unbalanced relationship with China and we have one that risks literally the jobs of the future,” Lighthizer said.
“I think it’s in the interests of both China and the United States to have some kind of successful agreement. The president [Trump] has said he definitely wants an agreement if we can get a great agreement for America,” Lighthizer added.
Earlier on June 18, he told the Senate Finance Committee that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods alone may not be enough to force the Chinese regime to stop its unfair trade practices, but that it was the only recourse given that dialogues have failed.
“I don’t know if it will get them to stop cheating, tariffs alone,” he had said.
“I think you don’t have any other option.”
Lighthizer added that the long history of failed talks with the Chinese regime has proved that dialogue in itself would not stop it from engaging in trade abuses.
“I know one thing that won’t work, and that is talking to them, because we’ve done that for 20 years,” he said on Tuesday.
“So if we don’t get an agreement, then we have to do something, and if there’s a better idea than tariffs, I’d like to hear it. I haven’t heard it.”
The trade dispute began last March after the United States said it would impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods due to a range of long-standing unfair trade practices by China, including theft of U.S. intellectual property, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, and currency manipulation.
“We are involved in a very difficult trade struggle which I think is extremely important to the U.S. economy and that is whether or not we’re going to protect our intellectual property and the jobs of the future, and even our current jobs,” Lighthizer also said on Tuesday.
The trade representative added that it was “impossible” to predict when the trade dispute will be resolved.
He said that many firms were moving their production of U.S.-bound products out of China to other countries to avoid the tariffs, adding that companies should factor in the threat of tariffs on Chinese-made goods when planning their future operations.
Trump earlier on June 19 said he had spoken to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and confirmed that the two countries would resume talks and meet at the G20 summit in Japan later this month.
U.S. trade officials are currently conducting hearings, listening to public comments from retailers, manufacturers, and others that would be affected if Trump proceeds with tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Trump has ordered Lighthizer to prepare those tariffs, but said he would make a final decision about whether to impose it after the G20 summit.
“I don’t even know if we’re going to have the tariffs. It’s up to the president,” Lighthizer said.
Reuters contributed to this report.