U.S. trade chief Tai says she aims to reduce U.S.-China tensions

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U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai addresses the Geneva Graduate Institute in Geneva

WASHINGTON – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Thursday that her engagement with China is aimed at reducing the temperature of a trading relationship between the world’s two largest economies that has become dangerously heated.

Tai, speaking at a meeting of the National Chicken Council, said that the U.S.-China relationship has reached a point where “it feels kind of like a pile of dry tinder” and a misunderstanding “is likely to spark basically just a giant fire with really, really drastic implications for all of us.”

Tai this month held a call with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He to discuss China’s lack of compliance with a “Phase 1” trade agreement with the United States reached under former President Donald Trump.

U.S. officials viewed the call as a test of bilateral engagement with Beijing, while Chinese officials pressed Tai to eliminate tariffs on Chinese goods.

Tai on Thursday said her aim is to “bring the temperature down so that we can have a sober relationship and a sober conversation about how we can stabilize the parts of our trade that are working.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that American chicken meat exports to China are expected to grow by 3% next year to 930,000 metric tons as Chinese consumers add more meat to their diets.

“China has a huge market, a huge population – and they all need to be fed. It needs ag imports. That is something that we can supply,” Tai added.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Will Dunham)