US invites China to trade talks as tariffs loom

As Washington prepares to impose new tariffs, US Treasury Secretary sends invitation to Chinese counterpart for further talks

WASHINGTON/SHANGHAI: The Trump administration has invited Chinese officials to restart trade talks, the White House's top economic adviser said, as Washington prepares to further escalate the US-China trade war with tariffs on US$200 billion (S$274 billion) worth of Chinese goods.

Mr Larry Kudlow, who heads the White House Economic Council, told Fox Business Network that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had sent an invitation to senior Chinese officials, but he declined to provide further details.

Two people familiar with the effort said Mr Mnuchin's invitation was sent to his Chinese counterparts, including Vice-Premier Liu He, the top economic adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The invitation comes amid growing opposition to tariffs from Western business circles.

Yesterday, the US business lobbies AmCham China and AmCham Shanghai published a joint survey showing that the negative impact on US companies in China of tit-for-tat tariffs Washington and Beijing have imposed on each other was"clear and far reaching".

More than 60 per cent of US companies polled said the US tariffs were already affecting their business operations, while a similar percentage said Chinese duties on US goods were having an impact on business.

AmCham China and AmCham Shanghai urged the Trump administration to re-think its approach.

"I think most of us think it is better to talk than not to talk, and I think the Chinese government is willing to talk." White House Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow


The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China released its own survey yesterday saying the tariffs were causing "significant disruptions" to global supply chains and "seriously impacting" non-Chinese and non-American companies.

A day earlier, more than 60 US industry groups launched a coalition - Americans for Free Trade - to take the fight against the tariffs public.

The Trump administration is preparing to activate tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods, hitting a broad array of Internet technology products and consumer goods.

It was unclear whether any US-China talks would delay the duties.

Mr Kudlow earlier told reporters outside the White House that communications with Beijing had "picked up a notch."

"I think most of us think it is better to talk than not to talk, and I think the Chinese government is willing to talk," he said.

Asked if the Trump administration would like to have additional trade talks with China, Mr Kudlow said: "If they come to the table in a serious way to generate some positive results, yes, of course. That is what we've been asking for months and months."

But he cautioned: "I guarantee nothing."

The timing and location of the proposed meeting were unclear, the sources familiar with the matter said. Mid-level US and Chinese officials held inconclusive talks on Aug 22 and 23.

Mr Scott Kennedy, deputy director of China studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said he suspected the invitation to talks would be viewed sceptically in Beijing.

"My guess is that they won't receive an enthusiastic response... because the Chinese probably just don't think that the Trump administration itself necessarily wants a deal or is willing to offer anything," Mr Kennedy said.

"China's economy has slowed a tiny amount, and it certainly has financial anxieties, but it is nowhere near any kind of tipping point. I don't see the Chinese running to the table to up their offer in any appreciable way."

So far, the US and China have hit US$50 billion worth of each other's goods with tariffs in a dispute over US demands that China make sweeping economic policy changes.

Mr Trump said last week that in addition to preparing tariffs on the US$200 billion worth of goods, he had tariffs on an additional US$267 billion worth of goods ready "on short notice if I want". - REUTERS