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BEIJING -- Three days of trade negotiations between midlevel American and Chinese officials ended in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon with progress in identifying and narrowing the two sides' differences but little sense of when they might reach a deal.

The trade talks could help clear the way for higher-level talks this month when President Donald Trump attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Vice Premier Liu He, China's economic czar, is expected to go to Washington sometime after that.

Chinese officials had no immediate comment, although the Commerce Ministry was expected to address the negotiations during its weekly news conference today.

In a statement after the talks ended, the U.S. trade representative's office said the two sides had discussed China's pledge to buy a "substantial" amount of U.S. agricultural, energy and manufacturing products.

Negotiators also focused on White House concerns about China's approach to intellectual property protection and its practice of so-called forced technology transfer, the statement said.

The Trump administration wants to ensure that China keeps its commitments in any deal that is reached. To that end, the statement said, officials discussed "the need for any agreement to provide for complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement."

China had already offered a number of concessions -- temporarily cutting tariffs on American cars, agreeing to import American rice, resuming American soybean imports and allowing imports of several genetically modified crops from the U.S.

The U.S. delegation plans to report back to the White House to determine what happens next. The administration has set a March 2 deadline for raising tariffs on roughly two-fifths of annual U.S. imports from China if no deal is reached.

"I'm optimistic that they're making progress -- the tone of the talks is important, and this tone has been good," said Dean Pinkert, a former commissioner of the United States International Trade Commission who is now a trade law partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, a big international law firm.

At issue is the extent to which China is willing to offer binding commitments to change trade practices that have long irked Trump and his administration.

The scheduled two-day talks extended into a third day as U.S. officials pressed China for more details on how it will live up to its commitments, said people with knowledge of the negotiations, who insisted on anonymity to avoid disrupting the talks.

China has made a series of offers to the Trump administration in recent weeks to end the trade war. But many of the administration's trade hawks regard them as nebulous, especially when it comes to Chinese trade practices that administration officials consider unfair.

They allege that officials in China pressure foreign companies to transfer key technologies to Chinese rivals as a condition for entering the country's market. They also protest lavish government subsidies granted through the Made in China 2025 program to build local companies into global powerhouses in industries like commercial aircraft, semiconductors and electric cars.

China denies that its trade practices have been unfair. Nevertheless, officials have agreed to make it easier for multinational corporations to participate in manufacturing development programs in China. They have also promised to improve intellectual property protection and to ban the forced transfer of technology.

Adding to the difficulty of reaching a deal has been the fractious nature of the Trump administration, with the three main government departments involved in the negotiations each pursuing a somewhat different agenda.

Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative and a hawk on trade issues, has led the push to impose tariffs on imports from China and has pursued an ambitious agenda that would require China to carry out verifiable and enforceable changes to the basic structure of its economy. Trump said last month that Lighthizer would be the lead trade negotiator with China.

The Commerce Department, which oversees U.S. export promotion activities overseas, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have been pushing since the early days of the administration for a deal that would require China to buy more food, natural gas and other products from the United States. Beijing officials have been happy to go along, as their country is short on arable land and gas, and long-term purchase agreements fit easily into the Chinese government's economic planning model.

The Treasury Department, under Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has been pushing for a quick deal that would stop further increases in U.S. tariffs. But Treasury would preserve indefinitely the 25 percent tariffs that Trump imposed in July and August on $50 billion a year in Chinese-made goods, or roughly a 10th of U.S. imports, and the 10 percent tariffs that he imposed in September on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods.

That first set of tariffs covers several categories in which China does not export much now but plans to do so in the next several years. The most important products covered by the 25 percent tariffs are gasoline-powered and electric cars. At least six Chinese automakers have announced plans to start exporting cars to the United States in 2020, said Michael Dunne, chief executive of ZoZo Go, an automotive consulting firm specializing in China.

Information for this article was contributed by Robyn Dixon of Los Angeles Times.

Business on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: U.S., China end 3 days of trade talks

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