China trade
July 10, 2019

U.S., China's Top Trade Officials Make First Contact Since Truce

 |  By: Bloomberg News

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke on the phone with their Chinese counterparts, marking the first high-level contact after their presidents agreed to resume trade talks last month.

The American officials spoke to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan on Tuesday, according to an emailed statement from a U.S. government official who declined to be named in line with policy. Both sides will continue these talks as appropriate, the official said, without offering more details on the next steps.

China’s Ministry of Commerce confirmed the conversation in a brief statement Wednesday morning, saying the two sides “exchanged opinions on implementing the consensus reached in Osaka” by Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow characterized the discussion as “constructive,” and said officials are planning more meetings but that no details have been confirmed. “Hopefully we can pick up where we left off but I don’t know that,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The U.S. officials will continue to speak with their Chinese counterparts on trade issues and perhaps make a trip there "shortly," Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, told reporters in Washington.

President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a tentative pause in their almost year-long trade war after meeting at the Group-of-20 leaders’ summit in Japan on June 29, and they directed their negotiators to find a path forward on a deal. The leaders didn’t outline a time-frame for negotiations or a deadline to finalize a trade deal.

Tentative Cease-fire

The talks broke down in May after the U.S. accused China of reneging on draft commitments, while the two sides remain at odds over significant aspects of a deal.

Under the tentative cease-fire, Trump agreed to postpone new tariffs on about $300 billion of Chinese imports, though he left in place the existing 25% duty on about $260 billion of Chinese products. The U.S. president also said he would allow U.S. companies to resume supplying some of their products to Huawei Technologies Co., but added that the Chinese telecommunications-gear-making giant would remain on a Commerce Department trade blacklist over national security concerns.

Earlier Tuesday, Kudlow said at an event in Washington that the U.S. government would ease restrictions on Huawei by relaxing the licensing requirements from Commerce. He added that Xi had agreed with Trump to scale up purchases of American products, including soybeans and wheat, along with possibly energy as part of a “good-faith” move to show how open China is to resolving trade differences.

(Corrects title of Kellyanne Conway in second deck head.)

--With assistance from Reade Pickert, Alyza Sebenius and Yinan Zhao.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Jenny Leonard in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah McGregor at [email protected], ;Margaret Collins at [email protected], Jeffrey Black