As U.S.-China Trade Talks Resume, A Deal Remains Uncertain

As U.S.-China Trade Talks Resume, A Deal Remains Uncertain

3:52pm Jul 29, 2019
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (from left),  U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He gather for a meeting in Beijing on May 1. They are due to meet again in Shanghai this week.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (from left), U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He gather for a meeting in Beijing on May 1. They are due to meet again in Shanghai this week.
Andy Wong / AFP/Getty Images

U.S. trade negotiators open a new round of talks in China this week. But there appears to be little pressure for a settlement, even as the year-old conflict begins to weigh on the global economy.

"I don't know if they're going to make a deal," President Trump told reporters last week. "Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. I don't care, because we're taking in tens of billions of dollars' worth of tariffs."

The trade war began last summer when the Trump administration slapped tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. Since then, it's escalated in fits and starts. The U.S. now adds a 25% tax to some $250 billion in Chinese imports. Although Trump paints his tariffs as a windfall for the U.S. Treasury, economists say the bulk of the cost is paid by American businesses and consumers buying Chinese goods.

The battle has depressed trade between the countries. U.S. exports to China fell more than 30% in June compared to a year ago, while imports from China shrank by nearly 8%.

Trump has repeatedly accused China of taking advantage of the United States.

"For China, until now, the U.S. has been 'easy pickens,' " he tweeted Monday.

The administration wants to see significant structural reforms in China, including stronger protections for intellectual property and reduced government subsidies. But it's not clear what, if any, concessions the U.S. team might wring out of the talks, which begin Tuesday. The delegation is led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

China wants the U.S. to lift tariffs on its exports and stop restricting technology sales to the Chinese telecom giant, Huawei. Trump has shown a willingness to let U.S. tech firms keep supplying hardware to Huawei, even though security officials warn the company could become a conduit for Chinese espionage.

Last week, the president complained that China is abusing its status as a self-proclaimed "developing country" in order to avoid opening its markets.

"After years of explosive growth, China has the second largest Gross Domestic Product in the world, behind only the United States," Trump wrote in a White House memo. He threatened to unilaterally stop treating China as a developing country if the World Trade Organization fails to reform its rules.

Leaders of the Federal Reserve have pointed to growing trade tensions as one factor behind a slowdown in worldwide economic growth.

"Uncertainties around global growth and trade continue to weigh on the outlook," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told members of the House Financial Services Committee earlier this month.

The Fed is widely expected to cut interest rates this week, in an effort to prop up sagging growth in the U.S. Growth slowed from an annual rate of 3.1% in the first three months of the year to just 2.1% between April and June.

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