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US pushes ‘needed structural changes’ on forced technology transfers and IP protection during China trade talks, but no sign if any new agreements were made
United States trade negotiators challenged their Chinese counterparts on a wide-ranging list of grievances during trade talks this week, according to an announcement from the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) issued on Wednesday as the discussions in Beijing came to a close.
 
In the first official statement to issue from either side, the USTR said the meetings, which began on Monday, were part of a push to achieve “needed structural changes in China with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial purposes, services, and agriculture”.
 
The USTR gave no indication as to what, if any, new agreements had been made during the latest round of talks, but its statement said the US side pushed verification and enforcement of previous agreements.
 
The discussions covered China’s commitment to purchasing “a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods, and other products and services from the United States”, the statement added, referring to one of the outcomes to have arisen from the December 1 face-to-face meeting between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.
 
The US delegation would now “report back to receive guidance on the next steps”.
 
Myron Brilliant, vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement on Wednesday that there were encouraging signs resulting from the “constructive dialogue”, but stressed that the business community was not primarily interested in “one-off purchasing commitments by China”.
 
Instead, Brilliant said, US companies wanted “structural reforms that would result in enduring access, a level playing field, and an end to use of regulations that too often force technology transfer or otherwise disadvantage US firms”.
 
US-China Business Council’s President Craig Allen expressed optimism over the USTR’s comment in Wednesday’s announcement that “officials also discussed the need for any agreement to provide for complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement”.
 
“We also noticed the USTR focused on enforcement and monitoring,” Allen told South China Morning Post. “We think it is very excellent development that you need to think through any agreement not from principle but from actual implementation.”
 
Given the relatively low-ranking status of the negotiations, led by deputy USTR Jeffrey Gerrish on the US side and vice-minister for commerce Wang Shouwen on the Chinese side, observers and analysts had predicted that the talks would seek to lay groundwork for future, more senior, discussions, rather than brokering any substantive deals.
 
“I think the overall positive tone of the negotiations is encouraging and it suggests there will be follow-up negotiations in the near term and we welcome that,” Allen added. “Negotiation from a senior level is even better.”
 
That view was echoed by Hun Quach, vice president for international trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), who said she was encouraged by this week’s discussions but hopeful that further talks would see the participation of USTR Robert Lighthizer and President Trump himself.
 
“What we’ve seen so far is – I would just say – progress”, said Quach, a former assistant USTR for congressional affairs, noting that the end of the 90-day negotiation window both sides agreed upon in December was “looming”.
 
“For the retail sector, we don’t disagree with the underlying findings of the administration’s investigation into China’s practices”, she said. “But for us we want to avoid putting the retail sector and our customers in the middle of this trade fight”.  
 
Wednesday’s announcement by the US came earlier than many had expected, because Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times tabloid, said in a tweet on Wednesday that both sides would be releasing statements “at the same time on Thursday morning Beijing time”.
 
Allen said his organisation is waiting for China’s announcement before making any final assessments about the talks because “China’s interpretation will be different”.

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