The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest economies, opened trade talks Wednesday, with Washington demanding a “more fair, equitable and reciprocal” relationship to cut into last year’s $309 billion trade deficit with Beijing.
As the talks started in Washington, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, “We must create more balance in our trade by increasing exports of ‘made in America’ goods to China. There are significant opportunities to do this if we can work together to remove the significant barriers that continue to exist.”
For his part, Wang said trading cooperation between the two countries “is a realistic choice for both sides,” but he warned that “confrontation will immediately damage the interests of both.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the benefits of a trade deal with China can only be maximized “if there is a more fair and balanced economic relationship between the United States and China.”
“This means providing access for American firms in China, as we provide access for Chinese firms in the United States,” Mnuchin said. “It means addressing the imbalances caused by the Chinese intervention in its economy, as well as addressing the impact of industrial, agricultural, technological, and cyber policies.”
The Treasury chief said the U.S. and China had already made progress in their trade relations as a result of the April summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with China’s markets being opened to U.S. beef processors and American credit-rating agencies gaining new information to assess the creditworthiness of Chinese corporations.
Whether a more substantive trading agreement between the two countries is possible is uncertain. Trump is considering slapping a tariff on steel imports from China, which could ignite a trade war between the two countries.
Wang, in his opening remarks, noted that the two countries “are different in terms of development stage and social system, but growing the economy and improving people’s lives are the priorities of our work, and a stable external environment is vital to addressing our domestic challenges.
“We are not choosing cooperation for the interests of the other side, but the interests of ourselves,” Wang said. “This is what drives our dialogue.”
But, Wang said, “dialogue and negotiation are different from each other. … Dialogue and negotiation can reinforce each other, but need to be both down to earth and visionary, and make sure that China-U.S. economic relationship will move forward along the right track and continue to produce tangible results.”
However, he said, the most important point of the talks was that the two countries are “having dialogue, not confrontation.”
Without explanation, both countries canceled news briefings that had been planned at the end of their scheduled single day of discussions.