U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday he hopes for “productive” trade meetings in China this week, as the two countries seek to hammer out an agreement amid a festering dispute that has seen both level tariffs at each other.
U.S. tariffs on $200 billion (155 billion pounds) worth of imports from China are scheduled to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if the two sides cannot reach a deal by a March 1 deadline, increasing pain and costs in sectors from consumer electronics to agriculture.
Mnuchin, asked by reporters as he left his Beijing hotel what his hopes were for the visit, said “productive meetings”. He did not elaborate.
Mnuchin, along with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, arrived in the Chinese capital on Tuesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he could let the deadline for a trade agreement “slide for a little while,” but that he would prefer not to and expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to close the deal at some point.
Trump’s advisers have previously described March 1 as a “hard deadline,” but Trump told reporters for the first time that a delay was now possible.
A growing number of U.S. businesses and lawmakers have expressed hopes for a delay in the tariff increase while the two sides tackle the difficult U.S. demands for major “structural” policy changes by China aimed at ending the forced transfer of American trade secrets, curbing Beijing’s industrial subsidies and enforcing intellectual property rights.
Trump said last week he did not plan to meet with Xi before the March 1 deadline.
Mnuchin and Lighthizer are scheduled to hold talks on Thursday and Friday with Vice Premier Liu He, the top economic adviser to Xi.
The latest round of talks in Beijing kicked off on Monday with discussions among deputy-level officials to try to work out technical details, including a mechanism for enforcing any trade agreement.
A round of talks at the end of January ended with some progress reported, but no deal and U.S. declarations that much more work was needed.