Top US and Chinese trade officials have held their first “candid” talks since Joe Biden became president, the two sides said yesterday, as Washington scrutinizes whether Beijing is sticking to a key agreement forged during a tariff battle between the economic superpowers.
The countries signed a so-called “phase one” pact in January last year, in which Beijing pledged to increase its purchases of US products and services by at least US$200 billion through last year and this year.
However, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai (戴琪) has said she is analyzing whether the terms of the pact have been met by China, with some experts saying Beijing is falling up to 40 percent short on its agreement.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce yesterday said that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴) and Tai held “candid, pragmatic” talks, and “constructive exchanges in an attitude of equality and mutual respect.”
A short statement from the Office of the US Trade Representative confirmed the “introductory virtual meeting” between Tai and He.
“During their candid exchange,” Tai laid out the “guiding principles of the Biden-Harris administration’s worker-centered trade policy ... while also raising issues of concern,” the statement added.
The Liu-Tai phone call followed a staff-level phone talk that took place on Tuesday night, a person familiar with the planning for the meeting said.
During the call, the Chinese stressed the importance of tariff rollbacks as a necessary component of next steps in the relationship, the person said.
The Biden administration so far has left in place tariffs affecting billions of US dollars in trade that were imposed under former US president Donald Trump.
Tai has pledged to build on the last year’s pact, saying on May 5 that she respects the continuity of US policy.
However, despite the tariffs that the US and China have in place, trade is actually growing, with Chinese imports from the US hitting a record in March. Chinese exports to the US have been strong due to the COVID-19 pandemic, US stimulus payments and an economic rebound.
Meanwhile, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said that he would push for rapid passage of a bill that would allocate tens of billions of US dollars toward boosting US industrial and technological competitiveness, particularly against China.
A key provision of the proposal aims to address a shortage of semiconductors that has put the brakes on auto production this year.
With both US political parties increasingly worried about competition from China, Schumer hopes he can win bipartisan passage of the US innovation and competition act.
He said he aims to get a vote on the bill “by the end of the week.”
The legislation “will supercharge American innovation and preserve our competitive edge not just for the next few years, but for generations to come,” Schumer said in the US Senate.
The proposal aims to address a number of technological areas in which the US has fallen behind its Chinese competitors, including in the production of semiconductors. An ongoing shortage of the crucial chips has forced US automakers to cut production, and the bill allocates US$52 billion in funding for a previously approved plan to increase domestic manufacturing of the components.
Also included is US$1.5 billion to pay for a fund to boost US competitiveness in 5G wireless technology.
Another US$1.5 billion would go toward a program “to counter the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party globally,” and require the US Department of State to appoint a top official dedicated to that goal, according to a summary of the legislation.
Billions of US dollars would go toward scholarships and other programs to advance scientific research.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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