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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Emirates stops flights to three major Australian cities

Updated 35 min 6 sec ago

Emirates stops flights to three major Australian cities

  • Flights to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be suspended until further notice: Emirates
  • The airline will still run two flights a week to Perth

DUBAI: Emirates has suspended flights to Australia's three largest cities as the country further restricts international arrivals over fears of new virus strains.
The Dubai-based carrier was one of the last to maintain routes into and out of the country's east coast throughout most of the pandemic but on Friday evening told travellers a handful of planned flights next week would be the last.
"Due to operational reasons, Emirates flights to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be suspended until further notice," Emirates said on its website.
The airline will still run two flights a week to Perth, but the cuts are another barrier for tens of thousands of stranded Australians still attempting to return home.
The Australian government responded by announcing more repatriation flights and said other carriers still flying services to the cities could fill the gap.
"The capacity that Emirates was able to use within the cap will be allocated to other airlines, ensuring that there are still as many tickets, as many seats available into Australia," Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said.
A small number of airlines - including Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines - are still running services to Australia but local media were already reporting delays and cancellations among returning travellers.
Australia's borders have effectively been closed since March to curb the spread of the virus, with the government even limiting the number of citizens allowed to return.
Last week travel restrictions were further tightened, with arrival numbers slashed and all travellers into the country requiring a negative Covid-19 test before flying.
In making the changes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison cited a growing number of people in quarantine testing positive for new strains of Covid-19.
Fears that a variant of the virus from Britain, believed to be more contagious, had leaked into Brisbane from hotel quarantine triggered a snap lockdown in the city last week.
"There are many unknowns and uncertainties in relation to the new strain, and so that's why this precautionary approach, we believe, is very sensible," Morrison said.
Australia continues to deal relatively well with the virus, having recorded about 28,600 cases and 909 deaths linked to Covid-19 in a population of 25 million.