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US-China Trade Talks Conclude With Little Conclusion

Trade talks between the U.S. and China ended Wednesday without so much as a joint statement on next steps, a plan for future trade relations or a date for the next round of talks.

China’s ballooning trade deficit, it seems, served to tie things up during the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue in Washington this week.

A Commerce Department statement released Wednesday by Secretary Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, also offered little in the way of acknowledging where U.S.-China trade relations stand.

“China acknowledged our shared objective to reduce the trade deficit which both sides will work cooperatively to achieve,” the statement said.

Naturally, China has said it isn’t intentionally pursuing a trade deficit with the U.S. and that it’s willing to work toward balancing it. China’s so dubbed “unfair” trade surplus, which hovers around $347 billion, has been a point of contention and the question now is how to handle the issue.

“Both sides agreed that one of the solutions to address the trade imbalance is for the United States to expand its exports to China, instead of reducing imports from China,” Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told Xinhua news following the talks.

The United States put China on a 100-day timeline following Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Mar-a-Lago meeting back in April, giving the country that amount of time to start showing signs of progress toward balancing the countries’ trade relations.

Acknowledging China’s progress thus far, the same Commerce Department statement said, “Since the Presidential Summit, the first 100 days made progress on important issues including credit ratings, bond clearing, electronic payments, commercial banking, and liquefied natural gas. Also, this is the first time since 2003 that the Chinese have allowed for imports of American beef.”

China has said that if it’s to get trade back in balance it needs the U.S. to relax export barriers for China and increase exports of high-tech products to China. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said U.S. exports of high-tech goods to China accounted for 16.7% of China’s total imports in that category, but last year that number dropped to just 8.2%, Xinhau news reported.

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Post-talk statements seemed to omit the steel issue (the U.S. has threated to slap tariffs on Chinese steel as it blames China’s excess capacity for the steel surplus it says is plaguing U.S. manufacturers), but if the U.S. takes action on Chinese steel, which Trump reportedly said could still happen, it could further hinder positive forward movement on U.S.-China trade relations.

For now the lack of progress on talks leaves trade relations between the two up in the air, but U.S. trade leaders are sticking to their story: “The principles of balance, fairness and reciprocity on matters of trade will continue to guide the American position so we can give American workers and businesses an opportunity to compete on a level playing field. We look to achieving the important goals set forth by President Trump this past April in Mar-a-Lago,” the Commerce Department statement noted.