July 19

U.S. officials fell short of securing ambitious gains in trade with China in a meeting Wednesday and news conferences planned to cap off the event were canceled as the two countries wrapped up 100 days of trade talks.

The United States unsuccessfully pressed China to make a substantial commitment to cut its steel production, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on private discussions. U.S. officials also asked China to do more to reduce its trade surplus with the United States and open its market for agriculture, financial services and data flows, the people said.

In a terse statement released after the talks, the Treasury Department said that China had “acknowledged our shared objective to reduce the trade deficit which both sides will work cooperatively to achieve.” It also pointed to earlier-announced agreements on issues including credit ratings, electronic payments, liquefied natural gas and American beef.

The Treasury and Commerce departments did not provide further comment, while the Chinese Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the few bright spots of the session was that, when Ross pressed the Chinese, they acknowledged the need to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and declared it to be a mutual goal, said an administration source familiar with the negotiations, who spoke anonymously to discuss them candidly.

The Trump administration is considering imposing tariffs or other restrictions on imports of steel and aluminum, on the grounds that China has unfairly flooded the global market with these commodities and made U.S. producers unable to compete. Analysts say the tariffs could come within days.

In a closed-door meeting with the Senate Finance Committee last week, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the administration hoped that the threat of harsh action would bring other countries to the negotiating table, according to people who attended the meeting.

In a stern speech that kicked off Wednesday’s talks, Ross pointed out that China accounts for nearly half of the U.S. trade deficit in goods and called for rebalancing the relationship.

“As President Trump has made clear at Mar-a-Lago, the fundamental asymmetry in our trade relationship and market access must be addressed. We must create more balance in our trade by increasing exports of made-in-America goods to China,” Ross said.

At a nearby event highlighting products made in America — the theme the White House had chosen for the week —President Trump pledged to “crack down on foreign countries that cheat.”

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