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China to ‘Significantly’ Boost Buying of U.S. Goods, White House Says

May 19, 2018, 6:03 PM UTC
President Trump Signs Presidential Memorandum Targeting China's Economic Aggression
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed presidential memorandum targeting China's economic aggression in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on March 22, 2018.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

China will “significantly increase purchases” of U.S. goods and services, the White House said in a joint statement talks aimed at resolving a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

The statement, though, didn’t place a dollar figure on the increased purchases by China, or address a comment by President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser suggesting Beijing had agreed to slash its annual trade surplus with the U.S. by $200 billion.

Vice Premier Liu He, a special envoy of China’s President Xi Jinping, held talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday, termed “constructive consultations,” with U.S. officials including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

China agreed to “meaningful increases in U.S. agriculture and energy exports,” the White House said, adding that the U.S. will send a team to China to work out the details.

The delegations also discussed expanding trade in manufactured goods, and each side agreed to strengthen cooperation on intellectual property. China will “advance relevant amendments” to its laws and and regulations in that area, including its patent law, the White House said.

Trade Surplus

On Friday morning, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, told reporters that China had offered to reduce its annual trade surplus with the U.S. by “at least $200 billion.”

“The number’s a good number,” Kudlow said outside the White House.

Earlier, two posts on Chinese state social media disputed a report that China planned to slash its trade surplus by the extended demanded by Washington though increased imports of U.S. products. A foreign ministry official also played down the suggestion.

In a sign that the Chinese government is seeking a conciliatory stance, it announced on Friday it was ending an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into imports of U.S. sorghum, citing “public interest.” That move came days after it restarted a review of Qualcomm Inc.’s application to acquire NXP Semiconductors NV.

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A $200 billion reduction in the U.S. trade gap with China by 2020 was on a list of demands the U.S. made earlier this month as Mnuchin led a delegation to Beijing. That mission left with little common ground with China and reports emerging of infighting among the U.S. officials. The U.S. merchandise trade deficit with China hit a record $375 billion last year.

Mnuchin and Kudlow will appear on U.S. political talk shows on Sunday.

Trump’s administration has threatened to impose tariffs on as much as $150 billion of Chinese imports to the U.S. as tensions over trade have escalated. Trump expressed doubt before his meeting with Liu that China and the U.S. would come to an agreement to avoid a damaging trade war.

ZTE Silence

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer criticized a lack of specific measures in the joint statement to protect U.S. intellectual property and stop China “from keeping our best goods until we hand over our trade secrets.”

Schumer noted that the statement also didn’t mention ZTE Corp., the Chinese telecom company that Trump a week ago ordered the U.S. Commerce Department to get help back into business after “too many jobs in China lost” because of recent U.S. action.

“If the administration capitulates on ZTE and allows it to continue to exist,” Schumer said, “that will signal to President Xi that we are weak negotiators.”

Kudlow said Friday that ZTE may need to change its management to win a reprieve from U.S. sanctions that shut it off from key parts suppliers.