BEIJING / WASHINGTON: US-China trade talks this week were heavy on details but short on progress as US negotiators outlined cases of American firms harmed by Chinese practices and China argued it was meeting its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations, people familiar with contents of the discussions said.
The two days of talks in Washington led by mid-level officials did little to resolve a worsening trade spat between the world’s two biggest economies and ended without a joint statement. Washington separately held hearings during the week on another round of proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports that appear increasingly likely to take effect in late September or early October.
And while factions on the US side have given conflicting signals on how hard to press Beijing during the trade dispute, officials from the Treasury Department, which led the talks, and the US Trade Representative, which has taken a harder line, were aligned in their messaging, the people said.
The talks took place as the two sides followed through on threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on $16 billion worth of the other’s goods. Beijing has filed a complaint with the WTO about the US duties. During the talks, Chinese negotiators repeatedly invoked what they said was Beijing’s compliance with WTO rules, an argument that did not impress the US side.
One of the sources described the US response as “We’re not going to care about the WTO as you fuel overcapacity, wreck industries and steal IP (intellectual property). We’re not going to sit on our hands.” All of the sources declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter. Washington is demanding Beijing improve market access and intellectual property protections for US companies, cut industrial subsidies and slash a $375 billion trade gap.
In a brief statement, China’s commerce ministry said on Friday that both sides had a “constructive” and “candid” exchange over trade issues, and will stay in touch on the next steps. US officials, including President Donald Trump, had downplayed expectations for the talks. No further talks have been announced. Chinese negotiators brought up the lack of US market access for items including Chinese cooked chicken, one of the exports that was agreed last year as part of a 100-day plan, demonstrating Beijing is still seeking some US concessions in the talks.
“The Chinese are stuck in the mindset that they want something in return,” another source briefed on the talks said. “That’s not going to fly in Washington anymore.” US negotiators brought up the case of Micron Technology, which was temporarily barred by a Chinese court in July from selling its main semiconductor products in China, citing violation of patents held by Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp (UMC).
In December, Micron had filed a civil lawsuit in California accusing UMC and its state-backed Chinese partner of stealing technology.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2018.