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China and the United States have made plans for face-to-face consultations over trade in January, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, as the world's two biggest economies advanced efforts to resolve a months-long trade war.
Consultations through "intensive" telephone calls will continue in the meantime, Gao Feng, spokesman at the commerce ministry, told reporters, adding that talks have been steadily moving forward despite the Christmas break in the United States.
"Even as the U.S side is in the Christmas holiday period, China and U.S. economic and trade teams have been in close communication, and the consultations are progressing in an orderly manner as scheduled," Gao said, when asked about progress on trade negotiations.
Gao did not comment directly when asked to confirm a media report on a U.S. trade delegation visit scheduled for the week of Jan. 7.
"The two sides have indeed made specific arrangements for face-to-face consultations in January in addition to continuing intensive telephone consultations," he said, without elaborating.
U.S. and Chinese officials have spoken by phone in recent weeks, but a meeting next month would be the first in-person talks since U.S. President Donald Trump met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Buenos Aires on Dec. 1.
Trump and Xi agreed to stop escalating tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods between the two nations. The two leaders also agreed to launch new talks while the United States delayed a planned Jan. 1 tariff increase until March.
In response, China has resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans for the first time in six months, even though hefty tariffs on U.S. cargoes remain in place.
China has also said it will suspend additional tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts for three months starting Jan. 1, adding that it hopes both sides can speed up negotiations to remove all additional tariffs on each other's goods.
A U.S. trade team will travel to Beijing the week of Jan. 7 to hold talks with Chinese officials, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing two people familiar with the matter.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that talks were likely in early January.
In yet another reconciliatory sign, China issued on Tuesday a so-called "negative" list that specifies industries where investors - domestic or foreign - are either restricted or prohibited.
The unified list is seen as an effort to address concerns from Western investors that there is no level-playing field in China. Investment in key Chinese sectors, however, is still prohibited.
On Wednesday, China unveiled the draft of a foreign investment law for public consultation. In it, China has proposed a ban on forced technology transfer and illegal government "interference" in foreign business operations, practices that have come under the spotlight during the trade war.
While China has frequently denied accusations of engaging in such practices, it has pledged to improve market access for foreign investors and better protect their rights in the face of growing complaints and reduced foreign investment.
In an apparent move to emphasize reciprocity, the draft law said China would reserve the right to retaliate against countries that discriminate against Chinese investment with "corresponding measures".
The draft will likely go through several readings before being submitted to China's parliament for formal approval, which could take another year or more.
Heaping some uncertainty in the way of the bilateral trade talks was the recent arrest of the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies in Canada at the request of the United States.
U.S. prosecutors accuse Meng Wanzhou of misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions. Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei's founder, has said she is innocent.