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U.S., China Trade Negotiators Discuss Concerns of Phase One

Bloomberg News

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U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators held “constructive discussions” in a phone call on Saturday to address each side’s core concerns of phase one of the trade deal.

China’s Vice Premier Liu He, the country’s key negotiator in the trade talks with the U.S., spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, according to the Chinese Commerce Ministry. The call was held at the request of the U.S. negotiators, and the two sides agreed to remain in close communication, it said in a statement.

The phone call came after President Donald Trump’s administration signaled talks with China over the first phase of a broad trade agreement are entering the final stages. That’s when the most contentious and complex issues are debated, with no guarantee that another breakdown will be averted.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters late Thursday in Washington that “we are coming down to the short strokes” and are “in communication with them every single day.” Still, he acknowledged a deal was close though “not done yet.”

The last stages of trade agreements are often where talks break down, and Trump still hasn’t publicly indicated his approval. The two sides were close to concluding a pact about six months ago, only for the U.S. to claim that China backed away from verbal commitments when the time came to sign the deal.

The two sides have held working-level video conferences focused on issues ranging from the details and timeline of Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods such as pork and soybeans to commitments to curtail theft of intellectual property that Trump is demanding from China, according to people familiar with the discussions.

U.S. stocks rose to all-time highs and Treasuries edged lower Friday following Kudlow’s comments. The S&P 500 reached another record and gained for the sixth week in a row, the longest streak in two years. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which past 28,000 for the first time, and the Nasdaq Composite also hit all-time highs.

The dialog on Saturday followed a phone call between the trade negotiators earlier this month, where the two countries signaled they’re getting closer to agreeing on the first phase of a deal aimed at reducing tensions in a trade war that’s slowed the global economy. The three spoke by phone at the time and separately released statements describing the call as “constructive.”

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To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Shawn Donnan in Washington at sdonnan@bloomberg.net;Winnie Zhu in Shanghai at wzhu4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net, Linus Chua, Shamim Adam

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