US and Chinese officials have discussed specific American export items Beijing might buy as part of its pledge to narrow its trade surplus with the United States, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Sunday as the two sides began a new round of talks in Beijing aimed at settling a simmering trade dispute. Ross gave no details at the start of his meeting with China’s top economic official, Vice Premier Liu He, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. But Chinese envoys promised after the last high-level meeting in Washington in mid-May to buy more American farm goods and energy products.President Donald Trump is pressing Beijing to narrow its politically volatile surplus in trade in goods with the United States, which reached a record $375.2 billion last year. He’s threatening to hike duties on up to $150 billion of Chinese imports. “Our meetings so far have been friendly and frank, and covered some useful topics about specific export items,” Ross said.
Ross was accompanied by agricultural, treasury and trade officials. Liu’s delegation included China’s central bank governor and commerce minister. There was no indication whether the talks also would take up American complaints that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies. The White House renewed a threat this week to hike duties on $50 billion of Chinese technology-related goods over that dispute.
Private sector analysts say that while Beijing is willing to compromise on its trade surplus, it will resist changes that might threaten plans to transform China into a global technology competitor. Ross had a working dinner Saturday evening with Liu, also at the same guesthouse in Beijing.
China has promised to “significantly increase” purchases of farm goods, energy and other products and services. Still, Beijing resisted pressure to commit to a specific target of narrowing its annual surplus with the United States by $200 billion.
Following Beijing’s announcement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the dispute was “on hold.” But the truce appeared to end with last week’s announcement Washington was going ahead with tariff hikes on technology goods and also would impose curbs on Chinese investment and purchases of US high-tech exports. The move reflects growing American concern about China’s status as a potential tech competitor and complaints Beijing improperly subsidizes its fledgling industries and shields them from competition.
Foreign governments and businesses cite strategic plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led efforts to create Chinese industry leaders in areas from robots to electric cars to computer chips. Trump also has threatened to raise tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese goods, but gave no indication this week whether that would go ahead.
Earlier, China responded with a threat to retaliate with higher duties on a $50 billion list of American goods including soybeans, small aircraft, whiskey, electric vehicles and orange juice. It criticized Trump’s move this week and said it reserved the right to retaliate but avoided repeating its earlier threat. Trade analysts warned Ross’s hand might be weakened by the Trump administration’s decision Thursday to go ahead with tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Europe and Mexico.
That might alienate allies who share complaints about Chinese technology policy and a flood of low-priced steel, aluminum and other exports they say are the result of improper subsidies and hurt foreign competitors.