China to cut consumer product tariffs, lift financing to boost imports-vice minister

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will lower tariffs and step up bank financing to support more imports as the country’s massive trade surplus has a negative impact on its citizens, commerce ministry officials said on Thursday.

China runs a vast trade surplus and has been accused by other countries including the United States of protecting domestic firms through unfair trade practices including high import tariffs.

U.S. President Donald Trump is set to visit China next week, with the trade relationship expected to be a major topic of discussion.

“A trade surplus that is too large has a negative impact on Chinese people’s enjoyment of national wealth. Only by reducing the trade surplus can Chinese people feel a greater sense of gratification,” said Ministry of Commerce Vice Minister Fu Ziying told reporters.

China will lower import tariffs on consumer products, encourage banks to expand import financing, and increase imports of advanced technological equipment and key components, said Wang Bingnan, another vice commerce minister.

“The Ministry of Commerce and other departments will further improve and refine policies, and work to create an environment that is fair, law-based, international and simplified business environment, to promote the healthy and stable development of foreign trade,” said Wang.

Details were not provided on what kind of products would be affected.

Trump on Wednesday called the U.S. trade deficit with China “embarrassing” and “horrible” ahead of a trip to Asia starting Friday that includes visits to five countries, including China.

Asked about Trump’s comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a briefing on Thursday reiterated that China does not intentionally seek a trade surplus with the United States.

“We are willing to work with the U.S. side to appropriately handle the relevant issue via dialogue and consultation in a constructive way, to protect the healthy development of Sino-U.S. economic and trade ties,” Hua said.

Separately, Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said China would speed up the pace of talks over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and strive to reach a conclusion as soon as possible, according to state media.

Trump’s withdrawal in January from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, to which China was not a party, gave the Beijing-backed RCEP new impetus.

The partnership would create a free-trade area of more than 3.5 billion people, bringing together China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as well as Southeast Asian nations.

The commerce ministry also said that China’s trade with countries involved in its “Belt and Road” initiative rose 15 percent in the first nine months of the year from a year earlier to $785.9 billion, reflecting the effectiveness of the ambitious trade initiative.

First mentioned during a speech President Xi Jinping gave to university students in Kazakhstan in 2013, the initiative is a vehicle for China to take a greater role on the international stage by funding and building global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.

Direct investment from Chinese firms in “Belt and Road” countries totalled $9.6 billion in January-September, the ministry said. That was down 13.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, a Reuters calculation based on government data showed.

China’s non-financial outbound direct investment plummeted 41.9 percent in the period from a year earlier to $78.03 billion, as tight capital flow controls continued to bite.

Reporting by Yawen Chen, Ben Blanchard and Beijing Monitoring Desk, additional reporting by Joyce Zhou; Writing by Elias Glenn and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gopakumar Warrier