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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

The stagnant U.S. talks with China might be fading in relevance

China's tightly-controlled state news service reported early Wednesday that the U.S. delegation departed the latest round of trade talks in Shanghai a half-hour earlier than planned.

American officials said the chats were “constructive” and that negotiations were expected to continue in Washington, D.C., in early September.

If these updates sound superfluous, it is because the most recent bilateral meetings failed to create even a glimmer of significant compromise.

The muddled White House spin on the stagnant talks sounds a bit like, "Heads-I-win-tails-you-lose." 

Progress is being made, they report — and if it isn't, all is well anyway, since we're winning the trade war.

Never mind that billions of dollars in federal farm subsidies are needed to offset domestic damage from China's retaliatory tariffs. 

Over and over, we hear what the talks are supposed to be about: Beijing's proved poaching of intellectual property and technology, non-tariff barriers to trade and purchase of American agriculture products.

Over and over, President Donald Trump has talked about a special relationship with President Xi Jinping. Then their meetings drift into the ether.

Trump issued a preemptive alibi.

“I think the biggest problem to a trade deal is China would love to wait and just hope,” President Trump said this week. "They hope — it’s not going to happen, I hope, but they would just love if I got defeated so they could deal with somebody like Elizabeth Warren or Sleepy Joe Biden or any of these people, because then they’d be allowed and able to continue to rip off our country like they’ve been doing for the last 30 years."

Analysts reacted skeptically.

TV market talker Jim Cramer said on the CNBC business network that on China trade, a President Warren would actually be tougher than Trump.

Releasing an "economic patriotism" agenda, Warren said: “We’ve let China get away with the suppression of pay and labor rights, poor environmental protections, and years of currency manipulation.”

Cramer said: “There’s no trade talks with Warren. Trump’s deal is a better deal than Warren is offering.”

Still, it is hard to assess the impact of deals that haven't been cut.

Meanwhile Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm based in Beijing, was quoted in published accounts this week as saying the trade talks were losing relevance.

“Whether or not the U.S. and China strike a trade deal, and if so when, is becoming a less interesting question,” he said.

“If there is a deal, it will certainly not restore U.S.-China trade and investment relations to their prior vibrancy," Kroeber continued. "If there is no deal, it’s unlikely that will mean anything more than maintaining the existing high tariffs.”

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