(Adds Chinese Foreign Ministry comment)
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Senior U.S. officials will discuss trade disputes next week with a top Chinese economic official when he visits Washington, a senior U.S. official said on Friday as President Donald Trump considers new tariffs on steel imports.
The talks will be led by Trump’s trade envoy, Robert Lighthizer, who will meet with senior Chinese economic adviser Liu He, the official said.
U.S. officials say they do not expect a major breakthrough in the discussions.
Trump has long sought a way to a more balanced trade relationship with China and threatened to impose a big “fine” against China to protect American intellectual property. The U.S. official said Trump had been discussing imposing a global tariff on imports of steel from China and other countries.
A source close to the White House said he had expressed interest in imposing a tariff on steel imports of at least 24 percent, but a White House spokesman said no final decision had been made.
The prospect of a global tariff sent steel shares rising after hours with United States Steel Corp and AK Steel Holding Corp up more than 3 percent.
The Commerce Department on Feb. 16 recommended that Trump impose stiff curbs on steel imports from China and other countries and offered the president several options, ranging from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas.
A blanket tariff on steel would cover every steel and aluminum product entering the American market from China, the world’s largest steel producer.
“No final decisions have been made. As with every decision he makes, the security of the American people and the American economy will be the president’s primary concerns while he considers his potential options,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said.
“President Trump is committed to achieving fair and reciprocal trade relationships that protect the American worker and grow our economy,” he said.
Liu, a Harvard-trained economist and trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front-runner to be the next governor of China’s central bank, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu is the top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the Chinese economy.
China has not officially confirmed the trip.
Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang would only say when asked if Liu was going that the two countries have frequent exchanges of officials at various levels.
“If there is important news, China will issue it in a timely manner,” Geng added.
China has expressed concerns over excessive protectionism in the U.S. steel sector and urged restraint. It has also said it will oppose any “unfair and unreasonable” trade measures by countries such as the United States.
American steel companies have pressed the administration to impose trade measures to curb excess steel capacity and surging imports they say are undermining the U.S. industry.
Exports from China to the United States reached 1.18 million tonnes last year. China produces a total of 800 million tonnes of steel each year, equal to about half of global output.
In a meeting with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives at the White House earlier this month, Trump signaled he would take at least some action to restrict imports of both steel and aluminum.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, G Crosse and Jacqueline Wong