US and China agreed trade talks were ‘constructive’ but little else

Posted at 2:30 AM, Aug 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-01 04:30:09-04

US and Chinese trade negotiators have wrapped up two days of talks in Shanghai. And while both sides agreed that the latest discussions were “constructive,” there’s still no indication that the trade war will come to an end any time soon.

Expectations were low going into the week, which saw the first face-to-face meeting between the negotiators since their leaders declared a temporary truce in late June. Statements that each side released Wednesday showed little sign of tangible progress.

China’s Ministry of Commerce called the talks “honest, efficient and constructive,” and added that the countries discussed China’s ability to buy American agricultural products — one of very few topics that the two sides were expected to try to make headway on. State-run media last week reported that Chinese companies had applied for the lifting of tariffs on some products.

The White House also called the talks “constructive,” adding that the “Chinese side confirmed their commitment to increase purchases of United States agricultural exports.” But officials did not elaborate on when or how that could happen.

The countries also discussed “forced technology transfer, intellectual property rights” and other services, the White House added.

Washington will host the next round of talks in early September, but expectations for a breakthrough remain low.

The latest signals indicate that “neither side feels such urgency to strike a deal that they are willing to quickly and publicly bend on core positions,” analysts from Eurasia Group said in a note Thursday.

Beijing continues to stress that any deal will require the United States to lift all its tariffs on China, respect China’s sovereignty and reflect a more “realistic” commitment from China to purchase US goods, the analysts wrote. They added that reaching the finish line on some areas, such as access to China’s technology sector for US firms, remains politically difficult — especially after Washington placed Huawei on a trade blacklist.

Washington placed Huawei on that blacklist in May, saying the Chinese tech firm poses a national security concern. Huawei denies that any of its products do.

The trade blacklist bars American firms from selling tech and software to Huawei unless they get a license to do so. President Donald Trump said on the sidelines of the G20 that he would ease some restrictions on the company — a concession to Beijing, and potentially relief for some of the company’s suppliers, such as Google, Intel and Qualcomm.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said this week that decisions on licenses to sell to Huawei will be “forthcoming,” according to Reuters.

“The issues that are making these trade talks hard to conclude are not likely to be any less difficult in September,” said Robert Carnell, an economist with ING Asia. “We are not holding out much hope of a breakthrough then either.”