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Little Progress Made at New U.S.-China Trade Dialogue

The United States and mainland China made little progress on trade irritants at the first meeting of their Comprehensive Economic Dialogue held recently in Washington, D.C. The CED has replaced the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an annual gathering of senior officials focused on strategic goals, and the Joint Committee on Commerce and Trade, a forum designed to achieve more concrete objectives. The lack of major announcements at this meeting underscores the complexity of Sino-U.S. trade relations and suggests that any additional progress is likely to be gradual, as it has been in the past.

The United States reportedly entered the CED meeting looking for mainland Chinese commitments to reduce steel production capacity, expand market access for U.S. financial service providers, lower subsidies for state-owned enterprises and eliminate data localisation requirements. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the United States would also seek to address the imbalances caused by government intervention in the mainland Chinese economy and ease the impact of mainland China’s industrial, agricultural, technological and cyber policies on U.S. jobs and exports. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added that Washington wants to “rebalance in our trade and investment relationship in a more fair, equitable and reciprocal manner.”

However, the only area of agreement mentioned in a brief statement from Mnuchin and Ross at the conclusion of the meeting was a “shared objective to reduce the [U.S.] trade deficit [with mainland China], which both sides will work cooperatively to achieve.” Officials declined to issue the typical joint statement reviewing topics discussed and commitments made and cancelled separate news conferences. Prior to the meeting Ross acknowledged that bi-lateral trade talks are “becoming more challenging” but said the United States will continue to pursue “specific deliverables by specific dates so everyone on both sides can measure the results on a continuing basis.”

According to press reports, mainland Chinese officials were more upbeat in their assessment of the talks. A statement from the mainland Chinese embassy in Washington cited “positive outcomes” in services, mutual investment, imports of U.S. agricultural goods and steel production. Beijing also again encouraged the U.S. to ease its rules on high-tech exports to mainland China as a way to reduce the burgeoning trade deficit.

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