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Trade war

Mind the gap: China and US send mixed signals on trade deal

Beijing stays mum on details as Trump talks up win for farmers

The Chinese side's reporting on the Oct. 11 partial trade deal has raised the question of whether Beijing is on the same page as the Trump administration.   © AP

WASHINGTON/BEIJING -- Signs are emerging that the U.S. and China attach differing degrees of significance to last week's partial trade agreement, which U.S. President Donald Trump hailed as "the greatest and biggest deal ever" for American farmers.

The Chinese side's response to last week's "phase 1 deal," struck during high-level talks in Washington, has been more muted, raising questions about exactly how much progress was made.

State-run media generally have reported only "substantial progress" without going into detail on the agreement, which delayed a U.S. tariff increase set for Tuesday.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang said Tuesday that Chinese companies have purchased 20 million tons of soybeans and 700,000 tons of pork from the U.S. this year, among other agricultural imports. But he did not detail future purchases, saying only that China "will continue to buy more American agricultural goods."

Chinese imports of American farm goods will rise to between $40 billion and $50 billion annually over the next two years under the agreement, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

But sources familiar with the situation say Beijing wants the U.S. to remove existing tariffs on Chinese goods before committing to this level of purchases, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Washington and Beijing will hold further deputy-level negotiations to draw up a formal agreement for their leaders to sign at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next month in Chile, a U.S. government source said.

Mnuchin said Monday on CNBC that he has "every expectation" that tariffs due to take effect Dec. 15 will kick in if no deal is signed by then, but that he expects there to be a deal. These duties are more heavily weighted toward consumer products, such as smartphones, than previous rounds.

The agreement on agricultural imports owes to an alignment of American and Chinese interests on this issue.

American exports of farm goods to China, a vital market, fell by half in 2018. Trump is keen to shore up his support among farmers ahead of the 2020 presidential election. And China, facing a roughly 70% surge in pork prices since last year amid African swine fever outbreaks, needs cheaper U.S.-produced meat.

But sections of the agreement dealing with such topics as currency policy and liberalization of financial markets are likely to end up simply rehashing previously announced measures. Other American concerns, including industrial subsidies underpinning China's state capitalism model, do not appear to be on the agenda.

Washington and Beijing had been on the verge of a deal when talks broke down back in May.

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