China pledges to boost chip purchases in bid for trade deal

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USA and Chinese negotiators are set to kick off two days of official trade talks in Beijing on Thursday as the world's top two economies try to patch up their festering economic dispute.

US and Chinese negotiators began talks Thursday that Trump says will help decide whether he allows another tariff hike on $200 billion of imports from China to go ahead March 2.

The two countries have already slapped tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade, which has weighed on their manufacturing sectors and shaken global financial markets.

"Based on the positive signals from the US-China trade negotiations, further tariff hikes will likely be suspended", noted Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics, as US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with China's top economic czar Liu He.

Asked by reporters as he left his Beijing hotel what his hopes were for the visit, Mnuchin said "productive meetings".

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday that the negotiations had been progressing "very well". "They're showing us tremendous respect", Trump added.

China's trade surplus with the USA narrowed in January even as its American imports plunged, buffeted by a slowing economy and the tariff battle with Washington, official data showed Thursday. The analysts surveyed by Reuters projected China's trade surplus to have narrowed to $33.5 billion from $57.06 billion in December.

China's total imports also sank for the month, pointing to weak demand amid slowing economic growth.

China promised to bring all subsidy programs into compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, the sources said, but US negotiators reacted skeptically, in part because China has long refused to disclose its subsidies. Specifically, Lighthizer has zeroed in on China's alleged abuses of intellectual property and state sponsorship of companies.

An opening ceremony to mark the beginning of two days of high-level talks was held in Beijing on Thursday morning, according to China's state news agency.

On Tuesday, Trump said that while he is not inclined to extend the deadline, he might let it "slide for a little while" if talks go well. Trump said last week they plan to meet, but not before the March 1 deadline. "President Trump and President Xi sitting down face-to-face figuring that out and getting that final deal because they are the only two that will ultimately be able to nail that down".

In the latest round of talks underway in Beijing, both sides also are discussing the possibility of the US' removing the 10 per cent punitive tariffs it has imposed on US$200 billion of Chinese products, while leaving the 25 per cent tariffs on US$50 billion of Chinese products unchanged, two sources said.

China has offered to buy more U.S. goods but is expected to resist making deeper changes to its economy.

The International Monetary Fund warned on Sunday of a possible global economic "storm" as world growth forecasts dip, citing the US-China trade row as a key pivot point.

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