U.S.'s Mnuchin to visit China next week for trade talks: CNBC interview

Reuters

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06 February 2019, 13:18

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that he and other U.S. officials will travel to Beijing next week for trade talks, aiming to clinch a deal to avert a March 2 increase in U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

Mnuchin said in an interview with CNBC that the talks he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer led in Washington last week with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He were “very productive.”

“Ambassador Lighthizer and myself and a large team are on our way to Beijing next week. We are committed to continue these talks,” Mnuchin said. “We’re putting in an enormous amount of effort to try to hit this deadline and get a deal. So that’s our objective.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that any new trade deal with China “must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs.”

Trump has vowed to increase U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to 25 percent from 10 percent currently if the two sides cannot reach a deal by 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT) on March 2.

Bilateral talks have centered on addressing U.S. demands for deep structural changes to China’s economic and trade policies, including new protections for U.S. intellectual property, ending forced technology transfers, reining in China’s subsidies for state industries and increasing Chinese purchases of U.S. farm, energy and manufactured products.

“We are also very focused on free and fair trade for U.S. companies to have access there and to having a more level playing field which will bring down the trade deficit,” Mnuchin said.

He said the two sides still have much to do to reach an agreement.

“I don’t think it would be productive to speculate on the outcome because we have a lot of work left to do ... If we can’t get to the deadline, that’s not because we haven’t worked around the clock,” Mnuchin said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer held a closed-door briefing with members of the Senate Finance Committee and other senators Wednesday on upcoming China talks and the proposed new trade agreement between United States, Mexico and Canada.

“He is optimistic,” said Republican Senator Tim Scott who was in the meeting, referring to talks with China. Lighthizer told senators that purchases of agricultural products looked to remain a sticking point, according to Scott.

“That’s one of those things he says, one of those outliers of an issue that still raises real concern, and that he is still looking for ways to continue to address that and hammer on that,” Scott told reporters.

China, which bought about 60 percent of the 2017 U.S. soybean crop, cut off purchases of U.S. supplies during the trade war between the two countries.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu, during last week’s talks with Trump, promised further Chinese purchases of soybeans. Since then, Beijing bought 2.6 million tonnes of the product.

Before the trade war, U.S. sold more than 30 million tonnes of soybeans to China annually.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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