By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and China have largely agreed on a mechanism to police any trade agreement they reach, including establishing new “enforcement offices,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday.
Mnuchin, speaking on CNBC television, said that progress continues to be made in the talks, including a “productive” call with China’s Vice Premier Liu He on Tuesday night. The discussions would be resumed early on Thursday, Washington time, he added.
“We’ve pretty much agreed on an enforcement mechanism, we’ve agreed that both sides will establish enforcement offices that will deal with the ongoing matters,” Mnuchin said, adding that there were still important issues for the countries to address.
Mnuchin declined to comment on when or if U.S. tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods would be removed. Although President Donald Trump said recently that a deal could be ready around the end of April, Mnuchin declined to put a timeframe on the negotiations, adding that Trump was focused on getting the “right deal.”
“As soon as we’re ready and we have this done, he’s ready and willing to meet with President Xi (Jinping) and it’s important for the two leaders to meet and we’re hopeful we can do this quickly, but we’re not going to set an arbitrary deadline,” Mnuchin added.
The United States is demanding that China implement significant reforms to curb the theft of U.S. intellectual property and end forced transfers of technology from American companies to Chinese firms.
Washington also wants Beijing to curb industrial subsidies, open its markets more widely to U.S. firms and vastly increase purchases of American agricultural, energy and manufactured goods.
The Chinese commerce ministry on Thursday confirmed that senior trade negotiators from both countries discussed the remaining issues in a phone call following the last round of talks in Washington.
“In the next step, both trade teams will keep in close communication, and work at full speed via all sorts of effective channels to proceed with negotiations,” Gao Feng, the ministry’s spokesman told reporters in a regular briefing in Beijing.
Mnuchin did not address whether the enforcement structure would allow the United States a unilateral right to reimpose tariffs without retaliation if China fails to follow through on its commitments.
People familiar with the discussions have said that U.S. negotiators are seeking that right, but that China is reluctant to agree to such a concession. Alternatively, the United States may seek to keep tariffs in place, only removing them when China meets certain benchmarks in implementing its reforms.
Mnuchin said he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the negotiations, are focused on “execution” of drafting the documents in the trade agreement.
The two sides are working on broad agreements covering six areas: forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade, according to two sources familiar with the progress of the talks.
“Some of the chapters are close to finished, some of the chapters still have technical issues,” Mnuchin said.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Pete Schroeder; Additional reporting by Yawen Chen in Beijing; editing by Leslie Adler, G Crosse and Simon Cameron-Moore)