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Trading  | May 4, 2018

While the US trade delegation led by Steven Mnuchin that just spent two days in Beijing to achieve nothing, is currently somewhere over the Pacific on its way back to the States, that did not prevent it from issuing an official statement on the event that, until earlier this morning, was the biggest potential upside catalyst for today’s market: the status of US-China trade talks.

In the statement, the Mnuchin-led group said “U.S. trade officials had candid trade discussions with their Chinese counterparts” and added that President Donald Trump will decide the next steps.

This is what it said.

Statement on the United States Trade Delegation’s Visit to Beijing

At the invitation of Vice Premier Liu He and at the direction of President Donald J. Trump, the United States trade delegation, led by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow, and Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, traveled to Beijing, and was joined there by Ambassador Terry Branstad.

The delegation held frank discussions with Chinese officials on rebalancing the United States-China bilateral economic relationship, improving China’s protection of intellectual property, and identifying policies that unfairly enforce technology transfers. The United States delegation affirmed that fair trade will lead to faster growth for the Chinese, United States, and world economies.

The size and high level of this delegation illustrates the importance that the Trump Administration places on securing fair trade and investment terms for American businesses and workers. There is consensus within the Administration that immediate attention is needed to bring changes to United States-China trade and investment relationship.

The delegation now returns to Washington, D.C., to brief the President and seek his decision on next steps.

The above is a wordy way of stating that the talks achieved nothing, and merely agreed to hold more negotiations in the future. Meanwhile, the Treasury faces a May 21 deadline to report on restrictions on Chinese investment in the US, as part of the response to the recent Section 301 intellectual property investigation

In other words, the clock is ticking. And just to add some more heat, earlier this morning, the US appears to have purposefully leaked the US demands that the US sent to China ahead of their trade talks (this version was leaked on Weibo), and which as the Economist’s Simon Rabinovitch described, revealed “a very aggressive opening position from the US”

For those who missed it, the WSJ summary of the above is as follows:

  • The US delegation asked China to cut the bilateral trade deficit by $200BN by 2020, double what Trump demanded back in March.
  • The first U.S. request was for China to reduce the bilateral trade deficit by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020. The U.S.-China bilateral deficit in goods was $375 billion last year. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants China to slash the figure by $100 billion a year.
  • The U.S. also demanded that China immediately stop providing subsidies and other assistance for advanced technologies outlined in the government’s Made in China 2025 plan. The initiative aims for China to dominate future frontiers of manufacturing and industry, from robotics and aviation to new-energy vehicles.
  • The U.S. also asked China to cut tariffs on “all products in non-critical sectors” to levels that are no higher than the levels that the U.S. applies to imports, according to the document.
  • In addition, the U.S. also asked China to guarantee that it won’t hit back at the U.S. for any actions taken in the disputes over intellectual property. It also asked that China withdraw its challenges in this area at the World Trade Organization.

In response, and confirming that the upcoming negotiations will be very long, Chinese officials responded that the US proposal was “unfair.”

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