By David Lawder and Pete Schroeder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday a U.S.-China trade agreement would go “way beyond” previous efforts to open China’s markets to U.S. companies and hoped that the two sides were “close to the final round” of negotiations.
Mnuchin, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank spring meetings, said that he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would hold two calls next week with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The officials also were discussing whether more in-person meetings were necessary to conclude an agreement.
“I think we’re hopeful that we’re getting close to the final round of concluding issues,” Mnuchin said.
Beijing and Washington are seeking a deal to end a bitter trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs that have cost the world’s two largest economies billions of dollars, disrupted supply chains and rattled financial markets.
Among the issues under discussion are U.S. demands that China open more sectors of its economy to foreign and U.S. firms. Asked whether such an opening would go beyond what was contemplated in the 2016 Bilateral Investment Treaty negotiations, he replied:
“We are making progress, I want to be careful. This is not a public negotiation … this is a very, very detailed agreement covering issues that have never been dealt with before,” Mnuchin said. “This is way beyond anything that looked like a bilateral investment treaty.
The BIT talks, pursued by former President Barack Obama’s administration, stalled as China refused to satisfy U.S. demands to open significant sectors of its economy to foreign investment. The talks were not taken up by the Trump administration, which pursued tariffs on Chinese goods instead, leading to the current talks.
Mnuchin called the agreement under negotiation “the most significant change in the trading relationship in 40 years,” adding that it would have “real enforcement on both sides.”
(Reporting by David Lawder and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Paul Simao)