US–China Deputy-Level Trade Talks Get Underway in Tense Atmosphere

October 7, 2019 Updated: October 7, 2019

WASHINGTON—U.S. and Chinese deputy trade negotiators launched a new round of talks on Oct. 7 aimed at resolving the two nations’ 15-month trade war, with neither side showing any signs of giving ground.

About 30 Chinese officials, led by Vice Finance Minister Liao Min, entered the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Monday morning for two days of negotiations, to be followed by the first minister-level trade talks in more than two months.

The White House officially confirmed that the high-level talks, involving Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would begin on Thursday.

“The two sides will look to build on the deputy-level talks of the past weeks. Topics of discussion will include forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights, services, non-tariff barriers, agriculture, and enforcement,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

The talks are getting underway about a week before a scheduled increase in U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to 30 percent from 25 percent. U.S. President Donald Trump has said the tariff increase will take effect if no progress is made in the negotiations.

Workers are seen next to a truck unloading harvested soybeans at a farm in Chiping County, Shandong Province, China on Oct. 8, 2018. (Reuters)

The two sides have been at loggerheads over U.S. demands that China improve protections of American intellectual property, end cyber theft and the forced transfer of technology to Chinese firms, curb industrial subsidies and increase U.S. companies’ access to largely closed Chinese markets.

Trump launched a new round of tariffs after the last high-level talks in late July failed to result in agricultural purchases or yield progress on substantive issues.

As Monday’s talks got underway, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported more soybean exports to China, the latest in a recent flurry of buying by Beijing. China has booked deals for about 3.5 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans since early September, around 10 percent of its annual purchases prior to the trade war.

In recent weeks, the U.S-China trade situation has become more complicated by an impeachment inquiry by U.S. Democrats on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate business dealings by the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump also publicly asked China last week to investigate Biden.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday that neither the impeachment inquiry nor Trump’s request that Beijing investigate his political rival would weaken the U.S. negotiating position. Navarro told National Public Radio that Trump wants a big deal with China or no deal at all.

Another complicating factor is U.S. support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Trump has explicitly linked the trade talks to Beijing’s handling of the Hong Kong protests and preservation of the territory’s rights.

By David Lawder

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