On Wednesday, January 9, 2018, U.S. and Chinese trade officials concluded three days of intensive trade negotiations that were intended to reduce the on-going trade tensions between the United States and China. The talks reportedly saw the two sides moving closer on discrete issues in the energy and agriculture sectors but did not resolve continued disagreements over significant “structural” questions, such as the protection of intellectual property rights. The negotiations mark the first time trade officials have met since the two countries agreed to a temporary “truce” in the trade war between the countries in December 2018.
Reports indicate that the two sides made strides to increase China’s purchases of U.S. goods and services and to further open the Chinese market to American investment. Thus far, however, the talks have not resulted in any breakthroughs on other issues of concern for the Americans, mainly involving issues like the forced transfer of American technology, the protection of foreign company’s intellectual-property rights, and non-tariff barriers.
The negotiations were originally scheduled to last for two days but were extended to a third day. The extension was viewed as an optimistic sign by those close to the process. The importance of the talks was emphasized when Vice Premier Liu He, who is leading the negotiations for China and is Chinese president Xi Jinping’s top economic aide, made a brief appearance during the first day of discussions.
The U.S.-China Business Council, a leading group of American companies doing business in China, issued a press statement following the conclusion of the talks that emphasized the need for the two sides to resolve their ongoing trade dispute. The Council stated that, “[P]rogress should include a regularized, results-oriented government-to-government dialogue that produces measurable, commercially meaningful outcomes addressing the concerns of American companies. In addition, any agreement between the governments should include positive incentives when China produces milestone deliverables, including a mechanism for removing US tariffs and Chinese retaliatory tariffs as progress is made.”
While the specific outcome of the talks remains closely held, the progress made has inspired hope that there may be round of talks among cabinet-level officials soon, beginning as early as the end of January in Washington. A key goal of the talks would be to reach agreement on a broad set of issues quickly, given that the “truce” between the countries will end on March 1, 2018. If an agreement has not been reached by that date, tariffs on over $200 billion of Chinese imports are set to increase from 10 to 25 percent, which will impact Chinese manufacturers and U.S. consumers significantly.