Phone chat may pave way for resuming sit down trade talks

Business | 19 Jul 2019 11:45 am

U.S. and Chinese officials spoke by telephone on Thursday, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggesting in-person talks could follow.

Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke with their Chinese counterparts over the phone, Lighthizer’s office said on Thursday, following earlier comments by the Treasury secretary in an interview on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Chantilly, France.

“Right now we’re having principal-level calls and to the extent that it makes sense for us to set up in-person meetings, I would anticipate that we would be doing that,” Mnuchin told Reuters.

Asked if Thursday’s call could lead to an in-person meeting, Mnuchin said: “It’s possible, but I’m not going to speculate on the outcome.”

Lighthizer’s office later confirmed that the conversation took place as scheduled, but gave no details.

Separately, Su Ge, China’s former ambassador to Iceland and former president of the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank affiliated with China’s Foreign Ministry, said he expected more formal discussions to resume this month.

“These are difficult questions ... but at least they agreed to let the two negotiation teams to restart their work, so we will keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

William Lee, chief economist for the Milken Institute, said the tensions were simmering, with neither China nor the United States appearing ready to budge on critical issues.

“That high level of trade uncertainty is causing manufacturing firms to be reticent to make investments. That high degree of uncertainty is a drag on U.S. growth,” he said. “The real issue is that China wants respect. China wants a face-saving way of coming to the table.”

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