A senior Chinese government official said negotiators from China and the United States were working on the next steps to end their trade war, after Washington demanded Beijing remove all tariffs on American agricultural products.
Guo Weimin, spokesman for China’s political advisory body, on Saturday said a trade deal between the two nations would send a positive signal for the global economy.
Guo was speaking ahead of the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Sunday. The annual gathering of the largely ceremonial advisory group is being held after the US agreed to suspend a tariff increase on Chinese imports.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump said he had asked China to immediately remove all tariffs on US agricultural products because trade talks were progressing well.
“I have asked China to immediately remove all tariffs on our agricultural products (including beef, pork etc) based on the fact that we are moving along nicely with trade discussions,” Trump said on Twitter, noting he had not raised duties on Chinese goods from 10 to 25 per cent on March 1 as planned.
“This is very important for our great farmers – and me!” Trump said.
Farmers are a key constituency for Trump’s Republican Party, and the US president’s trade war with China has had a heavy impact on them. Beijing imposed tariffs last year on imports of soybeans, grain sorghum, pork and other items, slashing shipments of American farm products to China.
US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said this week that US trade negotiators had asked China to reduce tariffs on US ethanol, but it was not immediately clear whether Beijing was willing to oblige.
Trump’s tweet came several hours after the US Trade Representative’s office said that it would delay the scheduled hike in tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
The notice, due to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, said it was “no longer appropriate” to raise the rates because of progress in negotiations since December 2018. The tariffs would remain “at 10 per cent until further notice”.
The decision was reached after trade officials from both countries concluded their latest round of negotiations in Washington this week.
Guo said China and the US had made “substantial progress” on addressing Washington’s concerns over forced technology transfers, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers and currency.
“China and the United States reaching a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement as soon as possible will be not only good for the two countries, but also good news for the world economy,” Guo said, adding that disputes between the two nations were unavoidable.
“But the common interests override the disputes, and the need for cooperation is larger than confrontation. It is a proven fact that China and the US will both stand to gain if they cooperate, and be harmed if they fight each other. Cooperation is the best way forward,” he said.
Although the two sides have agreed not to raise tariffs for now, they have yet to reach a formal agreement to end the trade war. The US has said the confrontation was not just about trade, but also China’s economic and industrial structure, including its policies of providing state subsidies to companies.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to meet Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in late March, when the two sides are expected to try to push forward an agreement.
China has pledged to buy more American farm products and to take steps to address other US concerns. But analysts say even though China wants to keep up the momentum to end the deadlock, Beijing may not agree to cancel all tariffs on US agricultural goods.
Wang Yong, director of the Centre for International Political Economy at Peking University, said China was unlikely to scrap the duties.
“Trump’s demand to remove all tariffs is likely to be a negotiating tactic,” Wang said. “While it is not possible that China will remove all tariffs, there is room for tariffs to be lowered on certain products such as beef.”
Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said there needed to be “reciprocity” from both sides, meaning that China would lower the tariffs if the US agreed to do the same.
“There has to be reciprocity since the tariffs imposed by China were only applied in response to the US actions,” Wu said. “Also, the US has only promised to suspend the tariff increase, not to cancel all of them.”