Signs of new U.S.-China trade discussions emerge as increased tariffs loom

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States and China gave signs on Thursday that they will resume trade talks as the two economic superpowers discussed the next round of in-person negotiations in September ahead of a looming deadline for additional U.S. tariffs.

FILE PHOTO: Containers are seen at the Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai, China August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song

A new round of U.S. tariffs on some Chinese goods is scheduled to take effect on Sunday, threatening to escalate an already bitter trade war.

President Donald Trump said some discussions were taking place on Thursday, with more talks scheduled. China’s commerce ministry also said a September round of meetings was being discussed by the two sides, but said it was important for Washington to cancel a tariff increase.

“There is a talk scheduled for today at a different level,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio, without giving details. A spokesman for the United States Trade Representative could not immediately be reached for comment on the planned call.

“China wants to make a deal,” Trump said in the interview, adding that China was losing millions of jobs under pressure from U.S. tariffs. “I think they want to make a deal, I sort of think they have to make a deal. We’ll see what happens.”

The Trump administration on Sunday is scheduled to begin collecting 15% tariffs on more than $125 billion in Chinese imports, including smart speakers, Bluetooth headphones and many types of footwear.

Trump last Friday said he was increasing existing and planned tariffs by 5% on about $550 billion worth of Chinese imports after Beijing announced its own retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.

Tariffs of 15% on cellphones, laptop computers, toys and clothing are to take effect on Dec. 15. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said on Thursday it will collect public comments through Sept. 20 on a planned tariff increase to 30% on a $250 billion list of goods already hit with a 25% tariff.

U.S. stocks rallied more than 1% on Thursday on positive sentiment about the trade talks, although some analysts noted that Trump’s comments were light on substance.

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In Beijing, Chinese commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters that China hopes Washington can cancel the planned tariff increase to avoid an escalation in the trade war.

“The most important thing at the moment is to create necessary conditions for both sides to continue negotiations,” he said during a weekly briefing, adding that China was lodging “solemn representation” with the United States.

Gao said China had “ample” countermeasures to retaliate against the planned U.S. tariffs, but talks in the current circumstances should focus on whether the tariffs could be canceled. He did not answer directly when asked if his remarks suggested China would not retaliate against the latest U.S. tariff threat.

For two years, the Trump administration has sought to pressure China to make sweeping changes to its policies on intellectual property protection, forced transfers of technology to Chinese firms, industrial subsidies and market access.

China has consistently denied Washington’s accusations that it engages in unfair trade practices, vowing to fight back in kind and criticizing U.S. measures as protectionist.

A survey of U.S. companies doing business in China found that they are largely still making profits in China, but 81% said escalating U.S.-China trade tensions have affected their business operations.

That marks an 8 percentage-point increase from 2018, said the U.S.-China Business Council, which represents more than 220 U.S. companies ranging from Boeing Co BA.N to Archer Daniels Midland ADM.N and Hewlett Packard HPE.N.

The council’s president, Craig Allen, a former senior U.S. government official and expert on China, urged the United States and China to return to the negotiating table to end damaging tariffs and avert lasting damage to bilateral business ties.

The survey showed U.S. companies are losing sales because their Chinese customers increasingly view U.S. companies as unreliable business partners given the volatility of the bilateral commercial relationship.

Nearly 40% of those surveyed said they lost sales because of Chinese partners’ concerns about doing business with U.S. companies, a seven-fold increase over 2018.

In July 2018, the U.S.-China trade dispute boiled over in tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of each other’s goods and threatens to engulf all trade between the countries, putting global growth at risk.

Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Stella Qiu and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washngton; Writing by David Lawder and Yawen Chen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Leslie Adler