US negotiators have tempered demands that China curb industrial subsidies as a condition for a trade deal after strong resistance from Beijing, according to two sources briefed on discussions, marking a retreat on a core US objective for the trade talks.
The world's two biggest economies are nine months into a trade war that has cost billions of dollars, roiled financial markets and upended supply chains.
US President Donald Trump's administration has slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports of Chinese goods to press demands for an end to policies - including industrial subsidies - that Washington says hurt US companies competing with Chinese firms. China responded with its own tit-for-tat tariffs on US goods.
The issue of industrial subsidies is thorny because they are intertwined with the Chinese government's industrial policy. Beijing grants subsidies and tax breaks to state-owned firms and to sectors seen as strategic for long-term development. Chinese President Xi Jinping has strengthened the state's role in parts of the economy.
In the push to secure a deal in the next month or so, US negotiators have become resigned to securing less than they would like on curbing those subsidies and are focused instead on other areas where they consider demands are more achievable, the sources said.
Those include ending forced technology transfers, improving intellectual property protection and widening access to China's markets, the sources said. China has already given ground on those issues.
“It's not that there won't be some language on it, but it is not going to be very detailed or specific,” one source familiar with the talks said in reference to the subsidies issue. A representative for the White House referred Reuters to the US Trade Representative's Office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
“If US negotiators define success as changing the way China's economy operates, that will never happen,” said the other source with knowledge of the trade talks.
“A deal that makes Xi look weak is not a worthwhile deal for Xi. Whatever deal we get, it's going to be better than what we've had, and it's not going to be sufficient for some people. But that's politics,” that source said. China pledged earlier this year to end market-distorting subsidies for its domestic industries but offered no details on how it would achieve that goal, three people familiar with the trade talks told Reuters in February.
One of the key sticking points in the negotiations is the removal of the $250 billion in US tariffs. It is broadly expected in the trade community that US negotiators want to keep some tariffs on Chinese goods, which Washington sees as retaliation for the years of damage done to its economy by Beijing's unfair trade practices.