Top US and Chinese trade negotiators have held “candid” talks, their first under the Biden presidency, as Washington continues to raise concerns over Beijing’s trade practices.
In the long-awaited first official engagement between the US trade representative Katherine Tai and the Chinese vice-premier, Liu He, held virtually on Thursday morning (Beijing time), the two sides emphasised the importance of the bilateral trade relations and agreed to further negotiations.
A statement from China’s commerce ministry said the US and China held “candid, pragmatic and constructive exchanges with an attitude of equality and mutual respect”.
In Washington, the office of the US trade representative said that Tai “discussed the guiding principles of the Biden-Harris administration’s worker-centred trade policy and her ongoing review of the US-China trade relationship, while also raising issues of concern”.
The statement did not specify which concerns were raised during the call, but added that Tai looked forward to future discussions with her Chinese counterpart.
Trade relations between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated since the presidency of Donald Trump. The Biden administration has vowed to continue some of Trump’s trade policies towards China, while seeking Beijing’s cooperation on issues such as climate change.
The White House has also insisted that existing tariffs will be kept in place for now as the administration looks to secure a US economic recovery from the pandemic. China has also maintained duties on some imports from the US.
The two countries signed a “phase 1” trade deal in January last year, shortly before Covid-19 began to hit the global economy. In that pact, Beijing promised to increase its purchases of American products and services by at least $200bn over 2020 and 2021.
But in an interview with Reuters before the discussions, Tai said the US still faces “very large challenges” in its trade and economic relationship with China, and requires attention “all across the board”.
Some experts said Beijing is falling short on its agreement for 2020, and is still lagging in its imports in 2021. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, through 2020, China’s total imports of covered products from the US were $99.9bn.
Last year, China was the only major world economy that achieved growth despite the global pandemic. Roaring back from a rare contraction in the early months of 2020, China’s economy grew by 2.3%.
The US trade deficit hit a record high in March. Its trade imbalance with China increased more than 22% to $36.9bn, as demands for face masks and other foreign-made goods continued to grow.