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Pence signals little progress with China since Trump-Xi agreement

U.S. ‘remains hopeful’ Chinese officials will engage in serious talks

Vice President Mike Pence walks through Statuary Hall on his way to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence walks through Statuary Hall on his way to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday signaled that the Trump administration has made little progress in trade talks with China, even after what the White House portrayed as a breakthrough late last year.

Pence painted a picture of a new lull in U.S.-China trade talks even after President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Dec. 1 over local steaks in Argentina to call a truce in what had been a tense tariff war that threatened to slow the global economy.

Pence, speaking to the chiefs of America’s diplomatic missions around the globe at the State Department, gave no indication that additional progress has been made about a U.S.-China trade pact Trump and other senior White House officials have long said is needed to crack down what they — and U.S. allies — say are Beijing’s “unfair” trade practices.

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U.S. officials “remain hopeful” that Chinese officials will seriously come to the bargaining table, the vice president said Wednesday.

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The U.S. president during that Dec. 1 dinner with Xi agreed to freeze his tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods at 10 percent rather than, as previously planned, raising them to 25 percent when 2019 started three weeks ago. In return, Xi agreed to purchase more American “agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after that meeting.

The two sides were slated to “immediately begin negotiations on structural changes” in their trading relations, she said then. But Pence’s comments and others recently from senior U.S. officials indicate talks since have yielded little results.

White House officials have threatened to make the scuttled tariff increases if the new round of high-level talks fail.

Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer also told him U.S.-China talks last week may result in additional purchases by Beijing. But the sides have not made “much progress” on structural issues such as Beijing’s policies forcing U.S. companies to share intellectual property with Chinese partners.

Grassley said the administration could continue to push those issues when Chinese officials visit the United States this month.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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