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China: envoys in 'close communication' ahead of US deadline

Chinese negotiators are in “close communication” with Washington ahead of a possible U.S. tariff hike, the Ministry of Commerce said Thursday, but gave no indication whether trade talks were making progress.

A ministry spokesman gave no indication whether Washington was preparing to delay the increase due Sunday on $160 billion of Chinese imports as some news reports indicated.

Those reports said President Donald Trump's advisers were preparing for a possible delay of the duty increase as negotiators work on details of an interim “Phase 1” agreement announced in October.

“The economic and trade teams of both sides have maintained close communication,” said the Ministry of Commerce spokesman, Gao Feng. He said he had no additional details to release.

Beijing has threatened to retaliate if the U.S. tariff hike goes ahead but Gao didn't respond to a question about what China might do.

The two sides have increased tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's imports in a fight over Beijing's technology ambitions and trade surplus.

The conflict has disrupted global trade and threatens to chill economic growth.

The planned weekend U.S. tariff hike would extend punitive duties to almost everything the U.S. buys from China. Imports last year totaled more than $500 billion.

China has retaliated by raising duties on $160 billion of American goods but is running out of imports for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance. Beijing also has tried to limit losses to its own economy by avoided imposing tariffs on high-tech components and other goods required by Chinese manufacturers.

In a conciliatory gesture, the Ministry of Commerce announced Friday it was waiving punitive duties on U.S. soybeans and pork.