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US, Chinese trade negotiators face ‘large amount of work’

Beijing said Thursday US and Chinese negotiators still face a “large amount of work” as they meet for fresh talks aimed at resolving a months-long trade war.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to begin two days of talks in Beijing with China’s top economic official Liu He, the first since China put into law new measures seen as an olive branch in their high-stakes stand-off.

While US President Donald Trump has voiced hope that he could soon hold a signing ceremony with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, negotiations have dragged on, suggesting substantial differences remain.

Liu, Mnuchin and Lighthizer have “made some progress” after holding several phone calls recently, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a weekly press briefing.

“But there is still a large amount of work remaining to finish,” he said, adding both sites are “going all out to earnestly negotiate” following the truce struck by Xi and Trump in December.

The US officials will arrive later Thursday and have a working dinner with the Chinese side before a full day of talks on Friday, Gao said.

Lighthizer also sought to play down expectations ahead of the meeting, which is due to be followed by more talks in Washington in early April.

“I’m hoping but not necessarily hopeful,” he told National Public Radio earlier this week.

“If there’s a great deal to be gotten, we’ll get it — if not, we’ll find another plan.”

The two sides have slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods since last year, hitting a slew of businesses.

Trump suggested last week some of those tariffs should stay in place after a deal is reached to ensure China follows through.

– Remaining differences –

Beijing has taken steps to address some US complaints. Earlier this month China’s rubber-stamp parliament rushed through a law that seeks to protect foreign firms from the forced transfer of technology.

Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday repeated his pledge to step up punishment for intellectual property infringers to ensure they “bear an unpayable cost”, addressing a major bone of contention in Washington.

“We will again widen foreign firms market access,” Li pledged at the Boao Forum for Asia, a Davos-like annual meeting hosted by China.

AFP

28/3/2019

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