U.S., China talks focus on cutting trade deficit, China denies $200 billion target

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was determined to stop China from “taking our jobs, taking our money” as U.S. and Chinese negotiators met for a second day to try to avert a tariff war and find ways to boost U.S. exports to China.

China earlier denied assertions from U.S. officials on Thursday night that Beijing had offered a package of concessions and goods purchases aimed at reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China by as much as $200 billion.

“This rumour is not true. This I can confirm to you,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing, adding that consultations in Washington “are constructive.”

A U.S. official said on Friday said that China’s proposal was interpreted as Beijing pledging to work to achieve Washington’s $200 billion trade deficit reduction goal by 2020 – a demand presented to Chinese officials two weeks ago in Beijing.

The offer did not contain specifics, the U.S. official said, unlike China’s decision to end its anti-dumping duties on U.S. sorghum grain, a move that was linked to the U.S.-China trade talks.

A private sector source familiar with the talks also said that the U.S. government agencies were asking industry groups about the feasibility of potential deals with China in agriculture, energy and semiconductors.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said that the Treasury has been contacting American technology firms to test their willingness to support liberalizing export control laws to allow more exports to China. Chinese officials had proposed a list of goods covered by U.S. export controls that are not restricted by other nations, implying that these could be purchased from the United States, the sources said.

The sorghum anti-dumping probe had effectively halted trade worth roughly $1.1 billion last year, roiling global grain markets and spurring worries about rising costs in China.

Trump, speaking at a White House event on prison reform, said he was determined to negotiate “great trade deals” with China and other countries.

“We’re changing a lot of those horrible trade deals. They take our jobs, they take our money, we end up with no money, no taxes, no employment. Not a good combination.”

The meetings between delegations led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been private, with virtually no public announcements.

The United States is China’s dominant source of imported sorghum, a product grown in states such as Texas and Kansas that lean towards Trump’s Republican party, whose congressional majorities are under threat in mid-term elections in November.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

Explaining the dropping of the sorghum investigation, China’s commerce ministry said it “would have a widespread impact on consumer living costs, and does not accord with the public interest”.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese goods to combat what he says is Beijing’s misappropriation of U.S. technology through joint venture requirements and other policies. Beijing has threatened equal retaliation, including tariffs on some of its largest U.S. imports, including aircraft, soybeans and autos.

Reporting by Tony Munroe and Michael Martina in BEIJING and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by David Lawder and Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON, Hallie Gu in BEIJING, and Naveen Thukral in SINGAPORE; Editing by Robert Birsel and James Dalgleish

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