China denies it offered package to slash US trade gap by $200 billion

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denied on Friday that it had offered a package to slash the U.S. trade deficit by up to $200 billion, hours after it dropped an anti-dumping probe into U.S. sorghum imports in a conciliatory gesture as top officials meet in Washington.

U.S. officials had said in Washington on Thursday that China was proposing trade concessions and increased purchases of American goods aimed at cutting the U.S. trade deficit with China by up to $200 billion a year.

“This rumor is not true. This I can confirm to you,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

“As I understand, the relevant consultations are ongoing and they are constructive,” he said, adding that he could not elaborate on the specifics of the negotiations.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is in Washington this week for talks with U.S. officials led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin aimed at heading off a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies. 

Earlier on Friday, China announced that it was ending its sorghum investigation, which had effectively halted a trade worth roughly $1.1 billion last year.

“The imposition of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on imports of sorghum originating from the United States would have a widespread impact on consumer living costs, and does not accord with the public interest,” the Commerce Ministry said in a statement.

BIG TARGET

Getting to a $200 billion reduction of the U.S.-China trade deficit on a sustainable basis would require a massive change in the composition of trade between them, and the news had been met with scepticism from economists.

The U.S. goods deficit was $375 billion last year.

One U.S. source said earlier U.S. aircraft maker Boeing Co would be a major beneficiary of the Chinese offer to narrow the trade gap if Trump were to accept it. Boeing is the largest U.S. exporter and already sells about a quarter of its commercial aircraft to Chinese customers.

Another person familiar with the talks said the package may include some elimination of Chinese tariffs already in place on about $4 billion worth of U.S. farm products including fruit, nuts, pork, wine and sorghum.

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Impact of trade tensions between US and China
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Impact of trade tensions between US and China

Head chef Liang Xin poses with a piece of beef imported from the U.S. in the kitchen at Wolfgang's, a high-end steak house in East Beijing's Sanlitun district, China, April 6, 2018. Liang said U.S. beef has always been limited in China, so he doesn't know how customers would react if the restaurant has to raise prices.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Liu Anqi rolls dough in flour made from imported grain at the baking studio she runs with friends, in Beijing, China, April 12, 2018. Liu has just opened a bakery in Beijing with her friend. She also teaches customers how to make cakes with a brand of flour that uses only wheat from the United States and Canada. "Flour is one of the most important ingredients in baking and its quality varies with different brands," Liu said, adding that finding a new brand would be time-consuming and higher taxes on this wheat would force her to raise cake prices and tuition fees, which could turn customers away. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

A detail of the Harley-Davidson brand name is photographed on the motorcycle of Guo Qingshan in his village outside Beijing, China, April 7, 2018. "I love the sound of the engine and the muscle of the motor. When I ride it, I feel free and proud," Guo said. However, Guo has his limits. If prices rise, Guo said he wouldn't contemplate buying another Harley. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Fried vegetables are seen in the kitchen of the restaurant where chef Liu Ming works, in Beijing, China, April 11, 2018. Liu said the oil that his restaurant uses is produced with soybeans imported from the United States, and the business won't change the brand even if prices rise. "We use this oil because it gives the food a bright colour and does not leave a strange smell or taste," he said. "We don't know what will happen to our dishes if we change the oil."

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Xie Guoqiang, who runs the Vin Place wine and liquors store, poses for a photograph inside the shop in Beijing, China, April 10, 2018. Xie said in an interview that the tariffs would have little impact on his business, as the shop mostly imports wine and liquors from France, Chile, Austria and Argentina.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

A bottle of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey is seen on a shelf at the Vin Place wine and liquors store in Beijing, China April 10, 2018. Xie Guoqiang, who runs Vin Place, said in an interview that the tariffs would have little impact on his business, as the shop mostly imports wine and liquors from France, Chile, Austria and Argentina.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Liu Ming, a chef at a Sichuan restaurant in Beijing, poses for a picture at the back door of the kitchen where he works in Beijing, China, April 11, 2018. Liu said the oil that his restaurant uses is produced with soybeans imported from the United States, and the business won't change the brand even if prices rise. "We use this oil because it gives the food a bright colour and does not leave a strange smell or taste," he said. "We don't know what will happen to our dishes if we change the oil." 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Liu Anqi uses flour made from imported grain at the baking studio she runs with friends, in Beijing, China, April 12, 2018. Liu has just opened a bakery in Beijing with her friend. She also teaches customers how to make cakes with a brand of flour that uses only wheat from the United States and Canada. "Flour is one of the most important ingredients in baking and its quality varies with different brands," Liu said, adding that finding a new brand would be time-consuming and higher taxes on this wheat would force her to raise cake prices and tuition fees, which could turn customers away. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

A bottle of oil is seen in the kitchen of the restaurant where chef Liu Ming works, in Beijing, China, April 11, 2018. Liu said the oil that his restaurant uses is produced with soybeans imported from the United States, and the business won't change the brand even if prices rise. "We use this oil because it gives the food a bright colour and does not leave a strange smell or taste," he said. "We don't know what will happen to our dishes if we change the oil." 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Zang Yi poses for a picture as her Tesla car is charging at a charging point in Beijing, China, April 13, 2018. Zang said if the trade tensions resulted in pricier U.S. imports, she wouldn't consider American brands when the time comes to buy a new car. "With the tariff, I would have to pay tax of 100,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan if I were to buy a new Tesla," she said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Zang Yi charges her Tesla car at a charging point in Beijing, China, April 13, 2018. Zang said if the trade tensions resulted in pricier U.S. imports, she wouldn't consider American brands when the time comes to buy a new car. "With the tariff, I would have to pay tax of 100,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan if I were to buy a new Tesla," she said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

A Chinese woman tastes wine during a wine seminar in Beijing, China, April 14, 2018.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Shan Yuliang, salesperson at a cigarette and wine shop, poses with a carton of Marlboro cigarettes in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018. "The moment I saw the news about the trade war on the internet, I felt something big was coming. Previously I would not think about what brand to buy. Now I will give it a second thought and avoid buying American products to defend my country," Shan said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Wine tasting teacher Li Yangang poses for a picture during a wine seminar in Beijing, China, April 14, 2018. Li said in an interview that reduced sales of American wine in China would not hurt the local market because of its relatively small market share. "Australian wine and French wine would have a bigger impact," he said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Cartons of Marlboro cigarettes are seen stacked up on a shelf between Chinese cigarettes at a cigarette and wine shop in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Student He Bingzhang lights a Marlboro cigarette in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018. "I don't think the trade war would change my behaviour. I don't smoke a lot, probably one pack a month. Even if it costs 100 yuan, I would still buy Marlboro because it is affordable," He said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Student He Bingzhang poses for a picture as he smokes a Marlboro cigarette in Beijing, China, April 8, 2018. "I don't think the trade war would change my behaviour. I don't smoke a lot, probably one pack a month. Even if it costs 100 yuan, I would still buy Marlboro because it is affordable," He said. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Guo Qingshan poses on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle in his village outside Beijing, China, April 7, 2018. "I love the sound of the engine and the muscle of the motor. When I ride it, I feel free and proud," Guo said. However, Guo has his limits. If prices rise, Guo said he wouldn't contemplate buying another Harley. 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Beef imported from the U.S. is seen at Wolfgang's, a high-end steak house in East Beijing's Sanlitun district, China, April 6, 2018. A 15-kg whole cut of beef from the United States is around 20 percent more expensive than its Australian counterpart, said Daniel Sui, deputy general manager at Wolfgang's. "Customers like U.S. beef because it tastes juicy and tender, but Wolfgang's only sells around seven to eight pieces of U.S. imported beef steak each day," Sui said. "The limited supply is because the Chinese government bans feed additives and only 5 percent of U.S. beef is qualified for export." 

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

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A White House statement described the meetings as part of “ongoing trade discussions” and said Trump met the Chinese delegation led by Liu and the U.S. team led by Mnuchin.

“The United States officials conveyed the president’s clear goal for a fair trading relationship with China,” the White House said.

That top-line number in the Chinese offer would largely match a request presented to Chinese officials by Trump administration officials in Beijing two weeks ago.

The two biggest U.S. exports to China were aircraft at $16 billion last year, and soybeans, at $12 billion.

SORGHUM SURPRISE

The United States shipped 4.76 million tonnes of sorghum to China in 2017, worth about $1.1 billion, accounting for the bulk of Chinese imports of the grain used in animal feed and Chinese liquor.

In April, China forced U.S. sorghum exporters to put up a 178.6 percent deposit on the value of sorghum shipments to the country after launching an investigation in February following Trump’s imposition of steep tariffs on imports of solar panels and washing machines.

“China has taught a lesson to the United States and showed how it can hurt U.S. exports,” said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney.

“Now they are showing goodwill by halting its anti-dumping investigation into sorghum imports, but it is a cheap way of showing goodwill as the U.S. doesn’t have much sorghum left to export. The next U.S. sorghum crop will be harvested in August,” Houe said.

Reporting by Tony Munroe in BEIJING and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by David Lawder and Doina Chiacu in WASHINGTON, Hallie Gu and Michael Martina in BEIJING, and Naveen Thukral in SINGAPORE; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel

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