China's economy czar and U.S. trade envoys discussed plans for talks on a tariff battle, the government said Tuesday, indicating that negotiations are going ahead despite tension over the arrest of a Chinese tech executive.
Vice Premier Liu He talked by phone with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about "the promotion of the next economic and trade consultations," said a two-sentence Commerce Ministry statement. It gave no other details. Lighthizer's office confirmed the phone call with Liu but provided no additional information.
The announcement indicated that talks are on track despite China's weekend threats of unspecified "grave consequences" if the Huawei Technologies Ltd. executive isn't released. She was arrested in Canada on U.S. charges of possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
Later Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that discussions between the world's two largest economies have been "very productive" and that "some important announcements" regarding the trade talks are coming. He didn't elaborate. But his White House counselor Kellyanne Conway cited news reports that China appears to be moving toward reducing tariffs on cars made in the U.S. to 15 percent from 40 percent.
Trump agreed on Dec. 1 to postpone more U.S. tariff hikes on Chinese goods for 90 days while the two sides negotiate over American complaints about Beijing's technology policies.
The Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested the same day in Vancouver, British Columbia. Despite that, the Commerce Ministry said last week that Beijing would carry out terms of the cease-fire and expressed optimism a deal can be reached during the 90-day period.
The Chinese government raised more doubts over the weekend when it demanded Canada and the United States withdraw the charges and release Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, or face unspecified "grave consequences."
Trump approved tariff hikes of 25 percent on $50 billion of Chinese goods and 10 percent on another $200 billion of imports in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.
China retaliated with penalties on $110 billion of American goods but is running out of imports for retaliation due to their lopsided trade balance. Trump has threatened to expand charges to all goods from China.
Chinese Ministry of Commerce (in Chinese): www.mofcom.gov.cn