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China’s economy czar heading to Washington for trade talks

/ 01:57 PM February 19, 2019
 China's economy czar heading to Washington for trade talks

FILE – In this Feb. 15, 2019, file photo, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, while they line up for a group photo at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. China’s economy czar is going to Washington for talks Thursday and Friday aimed at ending a tariff war over Beijing’s technology ambitions.(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

BEIJING  — China’s economy czar is heading to Washington for talks Thursday and Friday aimed at ending a fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions ahead of a deadline for a massive U.S. tariff hike.

The announcement Tuesday, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, follows talks last week in Beijing that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said “made headway” on key issues. Xinhua said Vice Premier Liu He will hold talks with Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

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Business groups and economists saw Friday’s surprise announcement of the decision to meet this week as a sign negotiations were making progress.

Both governments have expressed optimism but they have given no details of their talks. Economists say the time available for negotiations is too brief to resolve an array of irritants in U.S.-Chinese relations. They say Beijing’s goal is to persuade President Donald Trump they are making enough progress to push back threatened U.S. penalties.

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Without an agreement, a 10 percent tariff increase imposed in July on $200 billion of Chinese goods is due to rise to 25 percent on March 2.

On Friday, Lighthizer told the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the two sides “made headway on very, very important and difficult issues.”

Trump imposed the penalties over complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. The talks also include complaints about Beijing’s plans for government-led technology development, cyber-spying and China’s trade surplus.

Beijing retaliated with higher duties on U.S. goods and told its importers to find other suppliers. That led to a 40 percent drop in Chinese imports of American goods in January.

Washington, Europe, Japan and other trading partners complain plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for government -led creation of global competitors in robotics and other technologies, violate Beijing’s market-opening obligations.

China’s leaders have offered to narrow its multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States by purchasing more natural gas, soybeans and other exports. But they are resisting pressure to scale back industry plans they see as a path to prosperity and global influence.

Other stumbling blocks include Chinese resistance to U.S. pressure to accept an enforcement mechanism with penalties to ensure Beijing carries out whatever commitments it makes.

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Trump said last week he might be willing to push back the March 2 date if the talks go well but Washington has yet to say whether the negotiations are making enough progress. /gsg

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TAGS: China, Robert Lighthizer, tariff, US trade, Vice Premier Liu He
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