China’s commerce ministry will send a delegation led by vice minister Wang Shouwen to the US for trade talks at the end of August, in the first formal attempt at negotiations since Washington imposed tariffs on $50bn of Chinese goods.
The White House is threatening tariffs on a much larger range of goods, in a potential further blow to China’s export industry, as it tries to pressure US corporations into “reshoring” production.
China, in return, is attempting to appeal to Wall Street and US companies by rolling out long-sought investment liberalisation measures, especially in the financial services sector. It has pointedly prioritised access for European and Asian companies, as a reminder to Americans of the opportunity costs of the trade tariffs.
“They are making the message clearer, and louder, on what China is doing to open the financial services sector, but I don’t know how much the west is buying that,” said Zhu Ning, a finance professor at Tsinghua University.
The trade tariffs have precipitated a broader debate within China about how the country’s economy should be steered. There has been a marked reduction in references to the Made In China 2025 industrial policy or to the Belt and Road international investment push, both policies associated with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The Chinese team will negotiate with a US delegation led by David Malpass, undersecretary for international affairs at the US Treasury department. China’s delegation received an invitation from the US, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.
China’s more senior officials overseeing the US relationship were noticeably absent from the working-level delegation, indicating Chinese caution over the ability of any American official to reach a binding deal.
Mr Wang has been the point person within the commerce ministry for the trade war that has dominated Sino-US relations this year. Mr Malpass oversees trade in financial services, among other briefs.
“Any negotiations would require a new measurable deliverable,” said Jake Parker, of the US-China Business Council in Beijing. “That would be an important barometer of future success in engagement.”
A series of trade talks between senior US and Chinese officials petered out earlier this summer after Beijing failed to meet Washington’s increasingly tough demands aimed at drastically reducing the imbalance in trade between the two countries.
China, which is challenging both US trade tariffs and domestic subsidies for industries like solar at the World Trade Organization, emphasised that it opposes “unilateral or protectionist” measures.
Earlier this month, it released a list of US imports worth $60bn a year to be hit with penalties after President Donald Trump instructed his officials to consider tariffs of 25 per cent on $200bn of Chinese goods.
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