US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Sunday he had been having frank, useful talks in China about exports, as Washington presses home its message to Beijing about structural economic changes amid a festering trade dispute.
Mr Ross arrived in Beijing on Saturday for trade talks after the Trump administration renewed tariff threats against China, and with key US allies in a foul mood toward Washington after they were hit with duties on steel and aluminum.
Addressing Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, Mr Ross said it had been a great pleasure to spend Saturday with him, when they had dinner together.
“Our meetings so far have been friendly and frank, and covered some useful topics about specific export items,” Mr Ross said, in brief comments before reporters.
Mr Liu spoke only to welcome Ross.
Neither man has made any other comments to the media.
Mr Liu, a Harvard-trained economist who is a trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is China’s chief negotiator in the trade dispute.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday the United States wanted this weekend’s talks to result in structural changes to China’s economy, in addition to increased Chinese purchases of American goods.
The purchases are partly aimed at shrinking the $375 billion US goods trade deficit with China.
Mr Mnuchin, speaking at a G7 finance leaders meeting in Canada where he was the target of US allies’ anger over steel and aluminum tariffs, said the China talks would cover other issues, including the Trump administration’s desire to eliminate Chinese joint venture requirements and other policies that effectively force technology transfers.
“I want to be clear, this isn’t just about buying more goods, this is about structural changes,” Mr Mnuchin said.
“But I also fundamentally believe that if there are structural changes that allow our companies to compete fairly, by definition, that will deal with the trade deficit alone.”
The US delegation at the Beijing talks includes Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs David Malpass, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney, and United States Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud.
Other officials and technical experts from the Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury, United States Trade Representative, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Energy are also taking part, the White House said.
China’s delegation includes central bank governor Yi Gang, Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, and Ning Jizhe, a deputy head of the powerful planning body the National Development and Reform Commission.
Mr Ross is expected to leave Beijing later on Sunday.
The US and China have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to $150bn each.
But just when it appeared a trade truce between the two economic heavyweights was on the cards, the White House last week warned it would pursue tariffs on $50bn worth of Chinese imports, as well as impose restrictions on Chinese investments in the US and tighter export controls.
Mr Ross, who was preceded in Beijing last week by more than 50 US officials, is expected during the two-day visit to try to secure long-term purchases of US farm and energy commodities to help shrink the US trade deficit.
The US team also wants to secure greater intellectual property protection and an end to Chinese subsidies that have contributed to overproduction of steel and aluminum.