BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross predicted on Monday that Beijing and Washington could reach a trade deal that “we can live with” as dozens of officials from the world’s two largest economies resumed talks in a bid to end their trade dispute.
Ross told CNBC the immediate trade issues would be easiest to tackle while enforcement issues and structural reforms, such as intellectual property rights and market access, would be more challenging to resolve.
“I think there’s a very good chance that we will get a reasonable settlement that China can live with, that we can live with and that addresses all of the key issues,” Ross said in an interview with CNBC.
China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing had the “good faith” to work with the United States to resolve trade frictions as Chinese officials met their U.S. counterparts in Beijing for the first face-to-face talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global markets.
After the first day of talks wrapped up, Chinese importers made their third large purchase of U.S. soybeans in the past month, Chicago-based traders said. But China has bought only around 5 million tonnes since purchases resumed in December, less than 20 percent of the beans it bought a year earlier.
Trump said on Sunday that trade talks with China were going very well and that weakness in the Chinese economy gave Beijing a reason to work towards a deal. Ross told CNBC the talks were being held with appropriate-level staff and would help determine how the administration moves forward.
The two sides agreed to hold “positive and constructive” dialogue to resolve economic and trade disputes in accordance with the consensus reached by their respective leaders, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.
“From the beginning we have believed that China-U.S. trade friction is not a positive situation for either country or the world economy. China has the good faith, on the basis of mutual respect and equality, to resolve the bilateral trade frictions.”
Trump imposed import tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods last year and has threatened more to pressure Beijing to change its practices on issues ranging from industrial subsidies to intellectual property to hacking. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.
“As for whether the Chinese economy is good or not, I have already explained this. China’s development has ample tenacity and huge potential,” Lu said. “We have firm confidence in the strong long-term fundamentals of the Chinese economy.”
Lu also said Vice President Wang Qishan would attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in late January, but added that he had not yet heard of any arrangements for a meeting with Trump there.
Few details emerged of the trade talks, which were scheduled to run through Tuesday.
Although the talks were held at a vice ministerial level, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has led trade negotiations with the United States and is a top economic adviser to Xi, made an unexpected appearance at the meetings on Monday, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Leaked photographs posted on the South China Morning Post’s website showed U.S. officials applauding Liu’s appearance, including the U.S. delegation leader, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish.
Another photo shows a wider view of dozens of officials from each country seated at three long tables facing each other and around the room’s borders, significantly more people than those attending previous rounds of U.S.-China trade talks.
A private-sector source familiar with the talks said this could indicate that more detailed discussions were likely taking place.
The U.S. delegation includes under secretaries from the U.S. departments of agriculture, commerce, energy and treasury, as well as senior officials from the White House.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC that the United States and China are “making progress” on trade.
“I hope too that we’ll make progress on all of the other places whether China’s not behaving in the way that we wish it would, whether that’s their cyber activity that has had a real impact, whether that’s the theft of intellectual property, which has hurt American businesses.
Tu Xinquan, a Chinese trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, told Reuters before talks began that the meetings would likely focus on technical issues and leave major disagreements to more senior officials.
Data last week showed manufacturing has slowed in both China and the United States, though the U.S. Labor Department on Friday reported a surge in new jobs in December along with higher wages.
Officials have given scant details on concessions that China might be willing to make to meet U.S. demands, some of which would require structural reforms unpalatable for Chinese leaders.
Even if a trade agreement is reached soon, analysts say it would be no panacea for China’s economy, which is expected to continue decelerating in coming months.
Reporting by Michael Martina; additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill/Mark Heinrich and Grant McCool