One thing certain in US-China trade talks - no more MOUs
Term replaced with 'trade agreement' after US President's dispute with his chief negotiator in the presence of China's Vice-Premier, media
WASHINGTON As trade talks between the US and China continued yesterday after seven straight hours on Saturday, there is one certainty amid all that give and take - there will be no Memorandums of Understandings (MOUs).
President Donald Trump, in an extraordinary dispute with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, dismissed the MOUs that have formed the outline of a potential trade pact as a waste of time, despite protests from his chief negotiator.
Sitting in the Oval Office on Friday across from Mr Lighthizer and his Chinese counterpart in the trade talks, Vice-Premier Liu He, Mr Trump unloaded about his feelings on MOUs, which Reuters reported on Wednesday had been drawn up in six critical areas to form the outline of a broad deal.
"I don't like MOUs because they don't mean anything. To me they don't mean anything. I think you're better off just going into a document. I was never ... a fan of an MOU," Mr Trump said from his perch behind his desk.
Mr Lighthizer, who was sitting with other members of Mr Trump's negotiating team, explained that writing MOUs was a standard procedure in forming trade agreements.
"An MOU is a contract. It's the way trade agreements are generally used... A Memorandum of Understanding is a binding agreement between two people," Mr Lighthizer said.
"It's a legal term, it's a contract."
Mr Trump was not satisfied.
"By the way, I disagree," he countered, addressing reporters as well as the Chinese delegation that has been negotiating the MOUs.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that negotiators have been drawing up six MOUs on structural issues: forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture, and non-tariff barriers to trade.
Mr Lighthizer, clearly not making traction in the back-and-forth with his boss, decided to go for a change in terminology.
"From now on we're not using the word Memorandum of Understanding anymore. We're going to use the term trade agreement, all right?" he said.
"Okay," the Chinese vice premier, sitting next to Mr Lighthizer, responded.
"Assuming you decide on an agreement... it'll be a trade agreement between the United States and China," Mr Lighthizer told the president.