The United States and China have reached consensus on measures to “substantially” reduce the US trade deficit with Beijing, but there was no mention of the $200bn target previously touted by the White House.
The joint US-China statement on Saturday followed talks in Washington led by US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and China’s state council vice-premier, Liu He, who also met the US president, Donald Trump, on Thursday.
“There was a consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China,” the statement said.
“To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services.”
Beijing and Washington agreed they would keep on talking about measures under which China would import more commodities from the US to close a $335bn annual trade gap between the two countries that has threatened to ignite a global trade war.
A report by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency described the statement from the two governments as “vowing not to launch a trade war against each other”.
A commentary published by Xinhua on Sunday called the statement a “good example of win-win”, noting that it would help America reduce its trade deficit by increasing exports to China and allow China to diversify and raise the quality of its imports. It also argued that China has always resisted any “unreasonable demands” by the US, never compromising or accepting restrictive conditions.
Last year, the US had a $375.2bn trade deficit with China, a source of frequent and bitter complaints by Trump. The US reportedly had demanded that the deficit be narrowed by at least $200bn by 2020.
The statement said China will “advance relevant amendments to its laws and regulations” to allow for more American imports, including changes to patent laws.
It also said both sides had agreed on “meaningful increases” in US agriculture and energy exports.
Trump has threatened China with tariffs on up to $150bn of imports, prompting China to threaten US agricultural exports.
The White House is wary of hurting largely Republican-voting farm states or damaging the economy before legislative elections this November. But Trump is also keen to appear tough on trade.
On Thursday he unleashed a barrage of criticism against former US administrations for allowing Beijing to take advantage of the US.
“We have been ripped off by China. And an evacuation of wealth like no country has ever seen before given to another country that’s rebuilt itself based on a lot of the money that they’ve taken out of the United States,” he said. “China has become very spoiled.”
The trade talks are complicated by the impending summit meeting in Singapore between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who has consulted with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, ahead of the meeting.
China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner, and Trump has called on it repeatedly to press Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.
The statement made no mention of Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which had suspended operations after US sanctions were imposed to punish it for exporting sensitive materials to Iran and North Korea.
Last week, Trump tweeted he and Xi were “working together” to find a way to help ZTE “get back into business, fast”.