US-China trade review delayed as Beijing lifts farm, oil spending

Signs of Xi Jinping relenting on trade could help US President Donald Trump silence domestic critics. (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2020

US-China trade review delayed as Beijing lifts farm, oil spending

  • The trade agreement has emerged as a lone source of stability amid strain in the US-China relationship over coronavirus

WASHINGTON: The US and China have delayed a review of their Phase 1 trade deal initially slated for Saturday, sources familiar with the plans told Reuters, citing scheduling conflicts and the need to allow time for more Chinese purchases of US exports.

No new date for the initial six-month compliance review between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He has been agreed, the sources said.

The officials were expected to hold a video conference on Saturday, the six-month anniversary of the trade deal’s Feb. 15 entry into force as the coronavirus pandemic began spreading globally.

One source familiar with the talks said the delay was related to a conference of senior Communist Party leaders at the seaside town of Beidaihe on China’s northeast coast. The postponement did not reflect any substantive problem with the trade deal, the source said, adding: “The new date has not been finalized yet.”

US President Donald Trump on Friday repeated his view that the trade deal was “doing very well,” but did not comment on the delayed meeting. The White House referred queries on the talks to Lighthizer’s office, which did not respond to a Reuters query about plans for the review.

Another source familiar with the plans said that US officials wanted more time to allow China to increase purchases of US goods agreed in the deal, to improve the political optics of the review.

China’s imports of US farm and manufactured goods, energy and services are behind the pace needed to meet a first-year target increase of $77 billion over 2017 purchases.

But as China’s economy has recovered from a coronavirus lockdown earlier this year, purchases have increased. On Friday, the US Department of Agriculture reported the sale of 126,000 tons of soybeans to China, marking the eighth consecutive weekday with large sales to Chinese buyers.

US oil traders, shipbrokers and Chinese importers also said Chinese state-owned oil firms have tentatively booked tankers to carry at least 20 million barrels of US crude for August and September, indicating a ramp-up in energy purchases.

Trump administration officials have signaled that they are satisfied with the pace of purchases in recent weeks and have no plans to abandon the trade deal, which also includes some increased access for US financial services firms in China, strengthened intellectual property protections and removal of some agricultural trade barriers..

Delaying the meeting, even briefly, could allow China to complete more purchases, which would help Lighthizer persuade Trump to stick to the deal.

Signs of Chinese compliance could also help blunt criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who last week said the agreement that Trump has called a historic win is “failing.”

The trade agreement has emerged as a lone source of stability amid strain in the US-China relationship over coronavirus, human rights crackdowns and sanctions.

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HSBC to axe 82 branches in UK, cut services in others

Updated 19 January 2021

HSBC to axe 82 branches in UK, cut services in others

  • The lender said it would be left with 511 branches in the UK following the closures

LONDON: HSBC said on Tuesday it planned to axe 82 branches in Britain this year after a drop in footfall across its retail network and a surge in digital banking.
The lender said it would be left with 511 branches in the UK following the closures, with many of the remaining branches set to be refurbished with some providing fewer services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dented bank finances, putting pressure on lenders to cut costs, while more customers have opted to bank online as people have been encouraged to stay at home to combat the spread of the virus.
HSBC said it had begun trialing different branch formats and decided to provide fewer full-service branches focused in large cities and towns, with others providing cash or self-service technology.
The bank said ‘pop-up’ mobile branches would also be rolled out later this year.
“The direction of travel is really quite clear and this is borne out by the reduction in branch usage and increase in digital interaction that we are seeing first-hand,” said Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s head of network.