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US officials to meet Xi as trade talks end 

Beijing, February 15

Top US economic officials were to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday after wrapping up trade talks in Beijing without announcing any progress.

The world’s two biggest economies were aiming to at least end the discussions on deep trade differences with enough goodwill to avoid an escalation of their tariff war.

The high-level engagement began on Thursday after President Donald Trump suggested he may extend his March 1 deadline for China to make significant concessions on trade if enough progress was made this week in Beijing.

The talks pitted a visiting delegation led by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin against one fronted by China’s economic czar Liu He.

They ended around mid-day on Friday and the delegations parted with nothing announced. 

Attention now shifts to a planned meeting between the US officials and Xi on Friday afternoon.

Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow had earlier said Xi’s willingness to meet was a “very good sign.”

“They’re covering all the ground. They’re hard at it,” Kudlow said of the talks.

He also had said that “the vibe is good,” though there’d been “no decision” yet on extending Trump’s tariff truce.

Trump had originally threatened to escalate tariffs on China after March 1, but this week eased up on that ultimatum pending the outcome in Beijing, with Bloomberg News reporting he could push it back 60 days.

But multiple reports indicated little progress was made in the Chinese capital on thorny issues such as US demands that Beijing stop requiring forced technology transfers by foreign firms as a condition of doing business in its market, and reduce subsidies that favour domestic companies.

The Wall Street Journal said China had offered to boost imports of US goods with promises of major purchases of semiconductors and other items, but that officials “remained deadlocked on a number of issues”.

Bloomberg reported that the two sides failed to narrow the gap on Chinese structural reforms wanted by Washington.

Both cited anonymous sources.

Mnuchin and Lighthizer returned to their hotel after the talks ended but did not speak to the media.

The United States accuses China of a range of unfair practices, including erecting myriad barriers to accessing its market and systemic theft of US intellectual property.

But China is not expected to make significant reforms without a lengthy fight.

Beijing and Washington have already imposed duties on more than USD 360 billion in two-way trade, weighing on their manufacturing sectors and shaking global financial markets.

In December, Trump had postponed plans to sharply hike tariffs, setting the March 1 ultimatum for Chinese concessions.

Trump has said that any trade deal would need to be finalised in a meeting between him and Xi.

Expectations for an accord have grown as China faces pressure from slowing economic growth, and as swooning global markets pose a challenge to Trump and his economic advisors.

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