Investors were on a euphoric high on Friday as Chinese markets surged after positive feedback emerged from the trade talks in Beijing.
Yet their unbridled joy might be premature. In the second day of discussions, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were reported to be carefully scrutinizing the text of a proposed agreement to end the economic conflict between the United States and Beijing.
The latest round of talks started over a working dinner on Thursday with China’s chief negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, and continued today with Bloomberg new agency reporting:
“The focus on the joint wording has become a key issue after US officials complained that Chinese versions of the text had walked back or omitted commitments made by negotiators, the officials said.
“The two sides have very different understandings of certain words, according to one of the officials, who noted that China’s Vice-Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen started his career as a translator at the ministry.
“China’s Commerce Ministry didn’t respond to faxed questions seeking comment.”
After frenetic rounds of shuttle diplomacy, Washington and Beijing appear to be edging closer to a deal, although the devil will be in the detail.
Earlier, White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow revealed that President Donald Trump’s administration could lift some of the US$250 billion tariffs on Chinese imports.
“We have to see what the track record is and we’re not going to give up our leverage. However, just to clarify, that doesn’t necessarily mean all the tariffs will be kept in place. Some of the tariffs would be kept there,” Kudlow told a media briefing at the US Export-Import Bank annual conference.
But he also made it clear there was no “time” limit on nailing down a new trade accord with China.
“[The talks are] policy and enforcement dependent,” Kudlow said, adding it could take weeks or months to sign off on an agreement.
Still, Chinese markets were buoyed by the news filtering out from the Chinese capital. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.2% to close at 3,090.76 points, while Shenzhen posted a 3.7% rise. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was also up on the day.
“I think ultimately we will be rewarded with a deal of sorts which both sides will proclaim … as a fantastic victory,” Rob Carnell, the chief economist and head of Asia-Pacific research at ING Bank, told CNBC.
“The thing to bear in mind is this is a process,” he added. “Whatever we get out of this, it’s nice to say, ‘Right, okay we’ll draw a line under this bit, now we have to look forward to all the other things that we haven’t sorted out’.”
The feel-good factor was certainly evident in Beijing as the talks wrapped up on a “constructive” note ahead of another meeting in Washington next week.
Mnuchin wrote on Twitter that he and Lighthizer were looking “forward to welcoming Liu to continue these important discussions,” without disclosing further details or issuing a statement.
But major progress has made in key areas such as intellectual property rights and the theft by stealth of US technology by Chinese companies.
Beijing has also promised to open up a raft of sectors to foreign companies and speed up its reform timetable. Yet, significantly, there was no mention of the business model favoring state-owned companies in the world’s second-largest economy, which is another bone of contention.
Naturally, sticking points remain, including the US tariffs.
“It is hard to predict if China will accept a deal leaving some tariffs in place,” Cui Fan, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said, pricking the euphoric balloon that had been bouncing around all day.