Top U.S. and Chinese officials on Wednesday sounded optimistic about making progress on a raft of bilateral trade concerns as the world's two largest economies began a second day of high-level talks.
We hope that we will be able to conclude today with a series of robust outcomes that will show constituencies in both of our countries that we can and have solved problems for the good of both of our countries, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at the start of a meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT).
Since the last JCCT session, China and the United States have taken a constructive, cooperative attitude and worked hard on resolving matters of concern to each side, said Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who heads a delegation of nearly 100 Chinese officials in town for the meeting.
The joint commission is an annual forum to resolve trade irritants through dialogue, rather than the more confrontational approach of filing a case at the World Trade Organization.
The two sides are expected to sign seven agreements at the conclusion of their two days of talks on Wednesday, a U.S. Commerce Department spokeswoman said. However, she offered no details on the areas where agreements might be struck.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said he hoped this week's meeting would set the stage for a successful visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington in January. Some U.S. industry officials expect Hu to be accompanied by a large delegation of Chinese businesses announcing purchases of U.S. goods potentially worth tens of billions of dollars.
A number of U.S. senators want China this week to agree to open its market to U.S. beef, while Microsoft and other software manufacturers are pressing for a Chinese commitment to fight piracy by raising purchases of legitimate U.S. software.
But Heritage Foundation economist Derek Scissors said Beijing may be saving its major concessions for Hu's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama next month. The biggest barrier to progress in U.S.-China economic relations is Beijing using its own lack of transparency to avoid serious negotiations, he said.
The two countries have a deep but far from trouble-free trading relationship. The United States is China's largest trading partner, while China is the United States' second largest behind Canada.
A major source of friction is the U.S. trade deficit with China, which has swelled 20 percent in 2010 after narrowing sharply during the global financial crisis. At its current pace, the trade gap with China could hit $270 billion this year, surpassing the record of $268 billion in 2008.
U.S. companies have a long list of complaints about Chinese market barriers and industrial policies that they say thwart them from making more sales in the Chinese market.
U.S. officials said they are pushing for progress in areas ranging from government procurement and indigenous innovation to intellectual property rights protection, clean energy, agriculture and medical and pharmaceutical issues.
China hopes to make practical progress on relaxing U.S. export controls on high-technology products, being recognized as a market economy and obtaining equal treatment for Chinese firms investing in the United States, Wang said.
A major irritant -- U.S. concerns about China's undervalued currency -- is not on the official agenda for this week's meeting but has lurked in the background.
Wang met on Tuesday with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to push China to let its yuan currency rise more quickly in value as part of an effort to reduce global trade imbalances.
An effort in the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to pressure China to allow a faster appreciation of the yuan fizzled this week.
This likely kills the effort for this year, although supporters may mount an uphill effort to attach the measure to other legislation before the Senate adjourns for the year, which it hopes to do by week's end.
There's no doubt in my mind there will be efforts continuing to push this issue all the way to last day of the current Congress, said Lloyd Wood, a spokesman for the Fair Currency Coalition of manufacturing and labor groups.
(Editing by Will Dunham and Mohammad Zargham)