U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross tells China to guarantee fair treatment for U.S. firms

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China needed to “guarantee fair and reciprocal treatment for U.S. firms” as he tried to strike an upbeat tone on a visit to Beijing amid trade tensions between the two countries.

Ross told Premier Li Keqiang on Monday that the United States hoped for “very good deliverables” when U.S. President Donald Trump visits China, likely in November.

In a statement on Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department said that Ross had also pressed China on the “need to rebalance bilateral trade and investment relations” and urged it to take “meaningful action” on trade issues.

“Secretary Ross once again continued to stress the need for concrete action to address the concerns of U.S. businesses, and that the U.S. would take action to defend American workers and businesses if cooperative efforts bear no fruit,” the department said.

China committed to further market opening and welcomed participation by U.S. firms, with both sides supporting talks to resolve trade frictions, it said.

Ross met with senior Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Wang Yang, who handles an annual U.S.-China economic dialogue, and He Lifeng, the head of China’s state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

China’s relationship with the United States has been strained by the Trump administration’s criticism of China’s trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons and missiles programmes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump met for the first time in person at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida in April. Trump has since played up his personal relationship with Xi, even as he kept up his criticism of China over North Korea and trade.

The two sides launched a 100-day economic plan at that meeting, including some industry-specific announcements such as the resumption of American beef sales in China. But U.S. business groups have expressed disappointment that the talks have not yielded more progress in getting China to loosen restrictions on foreign investment in many sectors.

“If the kind of trade relations China and the United States have are only beneficial to the Chinese side, then U.S. companies would not continue to do so much business in China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing.

Ross’s trip to China to “prepare the ground” for Trump’s visit comes after the U.S. administration earlier this month blocked a Chinese-backed private equity firm from buying a U.S.-based chipmaker.

In August, Trump authorised an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property - the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing. China has called that move “irresponsible”.

Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie