China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with representatives of entrepreneurs at the Boao Forum for Asia. Photo: Reuters, Tyrone Siu
Photo: Reuters / Tyrone Siu

More than a month has passed since Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump agreed over dinner to restart trade negotiations, but little if any clarity has emerged regarding what a deal might look like.

High-level talks are set to begin in Beijing tomorrow, and according to the South China Morning Post, Xi will meet with the US delegation on Friday.

Amid recent skepticism that the two sides can manage to come to an agreement, Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow suggested that the talks this week will be “determinative.” Trade Representative Robert Lightizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will head up the US team, each bringing different perspectives to the table.

Lighthizer takes a hard line approach to trade policy and has demonstrated that he has influence with the president. He played a key role in crafting trade deals reached by the Trump administration with South Korea, Canada and Mexico. He is also one of the few proponents of using tariffs among Trump’s cabinet.

But, so far, the Chinese side has reportedly not proposed concessions that would answer Lighthizer’s calls for an overhaul to China’s industrial policy and binding enforcement mechanisms.

One source, cited by Politico, said that Chinese negotiators have largely made offers in line with reforms that President Xi proposed in a speech at the Boao Forum last April. In terms of promises to further open up the Chinese market, the highly-anticipated speech fell far short of expectations.

Nonetheless, China may have new offers ready to present at the talks set to begin tomorrow. There is also speculation that Beijing is hoping to bypass Lighthizer and finalize a deal with Trump before showing all of their cards.

Trump recently said that he expects to meet with Xi soon and that he would consider letting a March 1 deadline to impose new tariffs slide, if talks this week make progress towards a deal.

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