China, US to Hold Trade Talks As Tariff Escalation Continue

BEIJING — China announced that its trade officials will travel to Washington early next month for talks with U.S. counterparts, potentially restarting stalled negotiations after weeks of uncertainty and escalation.

Vice Premier Liu He agreed to the visit in a telephone call on Thursday morning Beijing time with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, according to a statement from China’s commerce ministry. Lower-level officials will have “serious” discussions this month to prepare for the talks, which had originally been expected to take place in September.

A statement from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office confirmed that ministerial level discussions will take place in “the coming weeks,” without specifying when.

The prospect of talks may raise hope of some progress in the more than yearlong trade conflict, though clear differences between the two sides on the substantive issues remain. Both sides raised tariffs on Sept. 1 in the latest round of retaliation, the U.S. plans to add more tariffs on Oct. 1, and then both nations will increase them again on Dec. 15 unless there is a breakthrough.

S&P 500 Index futures climbed on the news, gaining 0.7%. The offshore yuan advanced, while havens such as the yen and gold declined.

Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang and Ning Jizhe, the deputy head of the economic planning commission, were also on the call, the Commerce Ministry statement said.

Officials have struggled to agree on when to hold talks and what to discuss since their last meeting in Shanghai in July. While President Donald Trump’s administration ratchets up the tariff pressure, China is having to add stimulus to support its slowing economy. On Wednesday, the State Council signaled that a reduction in the amount of funds banks have to hold in reserve is on the way

“No one is holding their breath,’’ said Chua Hak Bin, an economist at Maybank Kim Eng Research Pte. in Singapore. “Investors are slowly coming to terms that a trade deal is increasingly remote, with both sides talking tough and preparing for a long battle.’’

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©2019 Bloomberg News

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