China trade talks start amid cooling economic growth

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Senior US officials were in Beijing today for the first face-to-face negotiations since Trump agreed to a 90-day cease fire with China's leader Xi Jinping on December 1.

The talks are the first face-to-face interactions between the USA and China since both presidents met in Argentina and agreed a temporary truce in their tit-for-tat tariff war.

Trump imposed tariff increases of up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports over complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

Trump said last week, "I think we'll have a deal with China".

But even as both sides kicked off talks in Beijing, the USA riled the Chinese on Monday when it sailed navy destroyer USS McCampbell near the disputed Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

"We have a massive trade negotiation going on with China".

"Their economy's not doing well", Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. "I don't think it will proceed that fast". Ahead of the midterms, Beijing attempted to sway voters in those states by running advertorials depicting the US trade tariffs negatively in a major Iowa newspaper.

Asked what he expects to come out of this week's talks in Beijing, Trump sounded a positive note.

"The main thing is the administration's implied progress on talks with China - that's something that market sees as very important", said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments.

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But observers fear the time constraints and substantial range of prickly issues, including those Beijing considers core to its development, will make it hard to reach a deal.

Tensions have remained high in the South China Sea, with China claiming almost off the strategic waters, despite competing claims by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Trump on Sunday headed to the United States presidential retreat at Camp David, where he said he would discuss a trade deal with China with senior aides, among other issues.

If there is no deal by March 1, Washington has said it will go ahead with a sharp hike in tariffs on Chinese goods originally set for January 1.

The US delegation will be led by Deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish. The economy needs certainty.

Without a resolution, punitive United States duty rates on US$200 billion in Chinese goods are due to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on March 2.

The ratcheting dispute has pummelled confidence in China, sending the stock markets tumbling while the yuan has fallen against the dollar. Both Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Paracel Islands, and the US has contended that its ships passed through only worldwide waters, which Chinese officials refuted.

It's possible that if Trump, who's making his second trip to Davos as president, doesn't meet with Wang, one or more of his top trade lieutenants will instead.

The manufacturing sectors in both countries have been hit by the trade dispute, with China's contracting last month for the first time in over two years, according to official data.

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