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Trade War

China promises quick action on 'consensus' trade issues

Trump encouraged by 'strong signals' from Beijing

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the meeting with Portugal's Parliamentary President Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues at the Parliament in Lisbon on Dec. 5.   © AP

BEIJING -- In its first public comment since the U.S.-China leaders' summit in Argentina, China's Commerce Ministry expressed confidence in implementing the agreements that were made at the meeting and promised quick action.

"We are confident about the implementation [of the consensuses from the meeting]," an unnamed spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. The statement described the dinner meeting last Saturday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump as "very successful."

The ministry also acknowledged the 90-day deadline for the trade talks for the first time, saying, "In 90 days, economic and trade teams of both sides will actively push forward the consultation following a clear schedule and road map."

The statement also said, "China will start with implementing the specific aspects of the newly-reached consensus as soon as possible."

All eyes were on soybeans, as increasing Chinese import of American agricultural products is seen as one of the few concrete areas where a "consensus" had been reached. U.S. soybean futures inched higher for a fourth straight session on Wednesday.

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Chinese officials have begun preparing to restart imports of U.S. soybeans and liquefied natural gas, the first sign of the "immediate" action that Trump administration officials had talked about.

Trump cited the report in a tweet and wrote, "Very strong signals being sent by China once they returned home from their long trip, including stops, from Argentina."

Seemingly conscious of the stock market plunge on Tuesday, and news reports that suggested that perhaps China had not agreed to the concessions Trump claimed, the president wrote on Twitter Wednesday, "Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. ALL subjects discussed!"

Xi and his entourage are expected back in China on Thursday, as they concluded a trip to Panama and Portugal, after the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.

In Portugal, his last stop, Xi said that China considers "mutual respect" as a key in its dealings with the world.

"Even though the world is facing many challenges, China will always adhere to mutual respect and peaceful development, promote peace and stability," he said in a speech.

The Dec. 1 meeting had failed to produce a joint statement, and both the U.S. and China had issued their own takes of the meeting, exposing inconsistencies.

The White House press secretary's statement noted that the two presidents had "agreed to immediately begin negotiations on structural changes," including topics such as forced technology transfer and intellectual property protection.

It also said that the transaction should be completed within the next 90 days, and that if at the end of the period they are unable to reach an agreement, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will be raised to 25% from the current 10%.

China had only said that the two sides will "step up consultations in the direction of lifting all additional tariffs and strive to reach a mutually beneficial and concrete agreement as soon as possible."

While promising action on trade, the Chinese have not let their guard down. On Tuesday, state media released articles that said the reduction of Chinese tariffs on U.S.-made cars would become clearer "at the end of the year." Trump had hoped for an immediate move by Beijing, tweeting on Dec. 2, "China has agreed to reduce and remove tariffs on cars coming into China from the U.S. Currently the tariff is 40%."

Trump has agreed to withhold the hike of tariffs which was scheduled for Jan. 1, but Beijing is cautious. In May, the U.S. and China agreed to put the trade war on hold, only to see tariffs imposed just months later.

After being relatively quiet in the days following the Xi-Trump summit, Beijing has gradually begun to make statements regarding the trade talks. Besides countering the Trump administration, they are likely an effort by the Communist leadership to tame domestic public opinion, so as not to be too pessimistic or too optimistic about the road ahead.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reported that 38 Chinese government agencies, including the National Development and Reform Commission and the People's Bank of China, signed a memorandum of cooperation on Tuesday for joint efforts to strengthen punishment for intellectual property infringements.

"Dishonest conduct from individuals or enterprises such as repeated patent infringements and falsification of documents during patent applications will be subject to joint punishment," the NDRC said in an apparent nod to the U.S., which has long complained about alleged intellectual property theft by China.

"These wrongdoers will find it harder to get government financial support, participate in government procurement, issue corporate bonds and acquire government land supply," according to the NDRC memorandum.

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