US says must have more 'fair, reciprocal' trade with China
The US launched its first round of trade talks with China since Donald Trump took office in an unusually blunt manner Wednesday, demanding a more "fair, equitable and reciprocal" relationship, with more access for American-made goods and services.
The US side blamed the unbalanced relationship -- marked by a US trade deficit with China of $309 billion last year -- on Beijing's policies that impede access to their market, while China says Washington's own rules restricting US high-tech exports are partially to blame.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross insisted change was necessary given the more than 200 percent surge in Chinese exports to the United States in the last 15 years.
"If this were just the natural product of free market forces, we could understand it, but it's not," Ross said in the opening ceremony of the one-day meeting between senior officials from the world's top two economies.
"So it is time to rebalance our trade and investment relationship in a more fair, equitable and reciprocal manner."
The talks are a continuation of the process undertaken by the previous two administrations, which the Trump administration has rebranded as the US-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED).
Government officials usually open such meetings with very diplomatic statements and only sidelong references to thorny issues, but in this case the US officials pulled no punches.
MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL TRADE
Ross said China accounts for half of the US goods trade deficit and Trump insists the two sides address "the fundamental asymmetry in trade," and increase exports to China of "made in America goods."
And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Beijing must address "the imbalances caused by the Chinese intervention in its economy."
He said the talks with the Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Wang Yang would focus on concrete steps to provide greater access and a "level playing field" for US companies in the world's second largest market.
That in turn "will create prosperity for our two countries and the world," he said.
"We need to work together to maximize the benefit for both sides. But this is only possible if there is a more fair and balanced economic relationship between the US and China," Mnuchin added.
During his campaign, Trump attacked Beijing for unfair trade practices, but his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Florida resort in April prompted a change of rhetoric and the launch of a 100-day economic cooperation plan.
That led to specific but narrow achievements, including opening the Chinese market to US beef exports, and pledges to remove barriers to US credit card transactions, credit ratings, and other financial services, including bond underwriting, that were to be concluded prior to Wednesday's talks.
DIALOGUE OVER CONFRONTATION
Wang said the key point about the meeting is the two countries are "having dialogue, not confrontation."
"We don't need to defeat each other in handling differences," he cautioned, stressing that "confrontation will immediately damage the interests of both" countries.
Wang quoted a passage from Trump's 2009 business advice book "Think Like a Champion" -- which in turn was quoting industry pioneer Henry Ford -- saying, "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
"China is ready to work together."
However, in a speech to a business group the day before the talks, Wang said US policies were partly to blame for the high trade deficit.
He said "there is huge market potential to tap for US exports of advanced technologies, key equipment and critical parts to China. Unfortunately, American businesses have not had their fair share of the 'cake' due to outdated US regulations on export control."
US rules restrict export of certain high-tech goods to China and other countries when there is a potential for military uses as well as commercial applications.