Speed Reads

Trade Wars are Easy to Win

China isn't playing nice in the trade talks, U.S. officials insist

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted Monday that President Trump had not just threatened to levy new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports as a negotiating tactic, but that China was "retreating from commitments that have already been made" in trade talks. He wasn't exaggerating, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing three U.S. government and three private-sector sources. In a diplomatic cable that arrived late Friday, China marked up the 150-page draft trade agreement with so many significant edits, the talks were bound to go off the rails.

"In each of the seven chapters of the draft trade deal, China had deleted its commitments to change laws to resolve core complaints that caused the United States to launch a trade war," Reuters reports: "Theft of U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets; forced technology transfers; competition policy; access to financial services; and currency manipulation." Lighthizer's highest priority is to get China to change those laws, and he has pushed hard for an enforcement mechanism closer to sanctions regimes than normal trade deals.

One of the private-sector sources told Reuters that "China got greedy" and "reneged on a dozen things, if not more. ... The talks were so bad that the real surprise is that it took Trump until Sunday to blow up." Chinese officials told Reuters that Beijing wasn't reneging on its deals, but Chinese laws can't be changed quickly and U.S. demands are becoming more "harsh" and the path to a deal more "narrow."

The U.S. officials and analysts now have low expectations for Thursday and Friday's trade talks in Washington led by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. "My most likely scenario is that there's no final resolution, not for some time," MUFG Union Bank chief financial economist Chris Rupkey tells Bloomberg News. "They're talking about changing the way another country is doing business. It's like another country telling the U.S. to stop being capitalist."