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In the wake of the latest round of trade talks between officials from Washington and Beijing, outside observers are noting that some progress appears to have been made — but there’s still a long way to go before a meaningful deal.

On Wednesday, the U.S. trade delegation released a statement noting a long list of outstanding issues in the relationship between the world’s two largest economies — including “forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft of trade secrets for commercial purposes, services, and agriculture.”

Still the official statement also recognized that China had pledged to buy “a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods, and other products and services” from the U.S. Some analysts said that language, in addition to the meeting extending to a previously unannounced third day, indicated some potential thawing in the dispute.

“There were several signs of modest progress from these mid-level talks. First, negotiations went a day over the original schedule, indicating enough substantive discussion to at least keep officials at the table. Day three reportedly focused on the more knotty structural issues raised by the US side in detailed demands presented to Beijing in May 2018,” a group of experts from political risk consultancy Eurasia Group wrote in a Wednesday note.

They added: “Second, (the U.S. Trade Representative’s) statement noted that China has pledged to purchase a “substantial amount” of US exports, including agriculture, energy and manufactured goods. That language suggests that, as we expected, Beijing is carrying out a strategy of aggressively purchasing US goods — playing to (U.S. President Donald Trump’s) focus on reducing the trade deficit — in the hopes that it lessens the pressure on China to undertake difficult structural measures.”

China, for its part, said in a Thursday morning statement issued by its Commerce Ministry that the just-concluded round of trade talks with the U.S. were extensive and established a platform for future discussions.

“Both sides … held broad, deep and meticulous discussions on shared observations on trade issues and structural problems, laying the foundation for addressing areas of common concern,” the statement said, according to a CNBC translation of the original Chinese.

Even before the talks were extended into a third day, the analyst community was already seeing a positive when when China’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, reportedly stopped by the negotiating room on Monday. Given the vice-ministerial level of the talks, that was interpreted as a strong sign that Beijing was taking negotiations seriously.

In early December, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a temporary ceasefire, giving both sides until March to reach some agreement on trade and issues such as the forced transfer of technology.

Trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies escalated last year, putting global markets on edge. The U.S. announced tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, while Beijing countered with its own battery of levies.

Both parties, the Beijing ministry said, agreed to maintain close contact.

In response to the U.S. statement on the talks, U.S.-China Business Council President Craig Allen said in a release that his group was “pleased that the two governments had substantive discussions over the past three days.”

Still, he noted that the business community is concerned about more than just the overall balance of trade between the two economic superpowers — a problem that is at least partially being addressed by Beijing’s pledge to purchase more U.S. goods and services.

“We urge both governments to use the time remaining in the 90-day negotiating period to make tangible progress on the important issues at the core of the current dispute: equal treatment of foreign companies in China, as well as China’s intellectual property and technology transfer policies,” Allen said.

Beijing has denied that it forces foreign companies to transfer technology to Chinese parties in exchange for market access, but it has in various ways acknowledged that it could do more to allow overseas players an equal footing within its borders. To what extent such reforms are truly on the Communist Party’s agenda remains a matter of debate.

—CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.

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Canada’s vast pension fund is sticking with China amid tensions



Investment strategies involving China are coming under scrutiny amid political and security-related conflicts between Beijing and major Western economies, as well as a predicted growth slowdown for the world’s second-largest economy.

But Canada’s massive pension fund, among the world’s top 10 in terms of size, is sticking to plans to expand its holdings there.

Mark Machin, president and chief executive of Canada’s Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), sees the country’s potential to diversify his portfolio as outweighing any shorter-term economic setbacks.

“China is today the second-largest economy in the world, the second-largest equity market in the world, the third-largest bond market in world, and we have the ability to diversify into it,” he told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“So it’s more of a diversification call than a market call for the next few weeks or months … It’s much longer-term and it’s about diversification.”

China’s growth outlook has been dampened by weakened domestic demand and the trade war with Washington that’s hit exports. A recent Reuters poll found that the country’s growth is expected to slow to 6.3 percent this year from an expected 6.6 percent in 2018, which would be the lowest in 29 years. That figure was 6.9 percent in 2017.

The CPPIB, with $280 billion in assets under management as of last summer, plans to more than double its assets allocated to China by 2025 from a current 7.6 percent of its portfolio to up to 20 percent, it announced last August.

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French watchdog slaps Google with $57 million fine under new EU law



France’s data privacy watchdog has fined Google 50 million euros ($57 million), the first penalty for a U.S. tech giant under new European data privacy rules that took effect last year.

The National Data Protection Commission said Monday it fined the U.S. internet giant for “lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent” regarding ad personalization for users.

The commission said users were “not sufficiently informed” about what they were agreeing to.

It’s the biggest regulatory enforcement action since the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, came into force in May.

Google said in a statement it’s “deeply committed” to transparency and user control as well GDPR consent requirements and is deciding “our next steps.”

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Theresa May makes last-ditch Brexit bid to win over UK lawmakers



Prime Minister Theresa May listens in the House of Commons, London.

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Prime Minister Theresa May listens in the House of Commons, London.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced tweaks to her much-maligned Brexit deal on Monday, in the hope of winning over lawmakers who overwhelmingly rejected her proposals last week.

A major sticking point to her withdrawal deal is an agreement to ensure no hard border returns between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Some Brexiteers feel that “backstop” could be used by Brussels as a means to keep Britain within the EU while the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is nervous it would lead to Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the U.K.

In a statement to the lower house of Parliament on Monday afternoon, May said she would now discuss with the DUP on how to allay fears among the people of Northern Ireland before returning to negotiate further with Brussels.

However, May said the prospect of a second Brexit referendum did not enjoy majority support and also rejected the growing calls for her to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit as a possibility.

“The right way for this house to rule out ‘no deal’ is for this house to approve a deal with the European Union,” she said.

In what appeared to be some small concession to opponents, May said her government would also guarantee that workers’ and environmental rights would not be eroded post-Brexit and that a £65 ($84) fee for EU nationals applying for settled status would now be abolished.

May said she would continue to hold further meetings on Brexit next week and hoped that opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn would hold talks with her. Corbyn’s response to May’s statement was to accuse her of failing to realize the extent of her defeat last week and that her cross-party talks have been a “sham.”

Prior to the statement, sterling sat at 1.2870 versus the dollar and rose to $1.2890 as she spoke.

Parliament will now debate Monday’s statement from the U.K. leader before a vote on the motion is taken on Tuesday January 29.

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