×

UPDATE 3-U.S.-China economic talks appear contentious, steel stocks soar

(Recasts with steel stocks reacting to economic talks)

WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) - U.S. and Chinese officials appeared locked in contentious economic talks on Wednesday with the outcome clouded by the cancellation of closing news conferences and U.S. demands for a "more fair" trading relationship with Beijing.

Neither the U.S. Treasury nor the Chinese embassy in Washington offered an explanation for the cancellations.

Investors interpreted the negative signals from the talks as making it more likely that the Trump administration would forge ahead with broad steel tariffs or quotas based on a national security review, sending steelmakers' shares soaring.

Shares of United States Steel Corp closed up 4.8 percent, while AK Steel rose 3.6 percent and Nucor rose 2.2 percent.

"Investors are essentially handicapping a probability that Trump will announce a broad-based anti-dumping measure on steel imports," said Longbow Research analyst Christopher Olin.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in opening remarks to the annual summer dialogue between Washington and Beijing sharply criticized China's $347 billion trade surplus with the United States, saying it was not the product of market forces and the trading relationship needed to change.

"We must create more balance in our trade by increasing exports of made-in-America goods to China," Ross said at the Treasury Department. "There are significant opportunities to do this if we can work together to remove the significant barriers that continue to exist."

Neither the Treasury nor the Chinese embassy offered explanations for why their news conferences scheduled for late afternoon were canceled.

The start of the Trump administration's "U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue" talks comes at the end of a 100-day effort to craft an economic plan aimed at reducing the U.S. goods trade deficit with China.

So far, China has agreed to resume purchasing U.S. beef after a 14-year hiatus and committed to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas and open some parts of its financial services markets, such as card payment services.

China trade experts had seen Wednesday's discussions as possibly producing some small-scale announcements or transactions but not solving larger problems, such as U.S. complaints about China's excess capacity in steel and aluminum and subsidies for state-owned enterprises, nor China's complaints about U.S. refusals to sell Beijing advanced technology products.

Even if the U.S. and Chinese governments fail to agree on better trade terms, corporate chief executives from the two countries pledged to deepen their cooperation and joint investment efforts.

Led by Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Alibaba Group CEO Jack Ma, a group of 20 executives said they were committing to increase bilateral trade, including the export of U.S. agricultural goods, liquefied natural gas and consumer products to China.

"A stable, growing economic relationship between the United States and China is mutually beneficial to the people of our two countries and for the world," Ma and Schwarzman said in a joint statement.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeated calls by his predecessors for Beijing to rebalance its economy toward household consumption and away from exports and investment, a move he said would foster healthier, more sustainable growth.

"Foreign participation in the Chinese financial sector will help improve the allocation of resources to the most productive sectors of the Chinese economy and contribute to a stronger global financial system," Mnuchin said.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said the two sides should maintain a healthy dialogue and warned against starting down the path of confrontation over trade.

"Dialogue cannot immediately address all differences, but confrontation will immediately damage the interests of both," Wang said. (Additional reporting by Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish)