The world’s two largest economies remained on track to commence a $100bn trade war as early as this month, after a third round of China-US trade negotiations ended in Beijing on Sunday without a breakthrough. Last week US president Donald Trump said he would move to implement previously threatened tariffs on $50bn worth of Chinese industrial exports “shortly” after June 15, which Beijing has promised to reciprocate. US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and vice premier Liu He did not issue a joint statement after they wrapped up two days of discussions.
The previous round of talks, held in Washington in mid-May, ended with only a vague promise by Chinese officials to “substantially” reduce their country’s trade surplus with the US. In a brief statement, the official Xinhua news agency said Mr Ross and Mr Liu had made “concrete progress” without elaborating. But Xinhua also warned that any move by the Trump administration to impose punitive tariffs would derail the negotiations, which are expected to continue through the summer. The US delegation, which did not comment after the talks concluded, was due to fly out of the Chinese capital on Sunday evening.
Two people briefed on the discussions said there was little progress on agriculture and larger structural trade and investment issues, as the two sides concentrated more on potential energy deals. “The focus was exclusively on narrowing the trade deficit, with a particular focus on energy exports,” one of the people said. “The focus was not what the US business community would like to see.” Speaking at a G7 finance leaders’ meeting in Canada on Saturday, Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Mr Ross’s discussions in Beijing were not just focused on deficit reduction, but also contentious Chinese trade and industrial policies that US businesses believe hinder their operations in the country.