Top trade official says Washington wants to work jointly against protectionism Washington and Beijing should strengthen co-operation to stamp out protectionist sentiment and promote freedom of trade, the top US trade official said yesterday in an unexpectedly upbeat speech ahead of the third economic dialogue. In a sign that US negotiators intend to use the talks to push a positive agenda rather than exacerbate existing tensions, US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez did not mention the intractable issues of Beijing's currency regime and the mainland's swelling trade surplus with the United States. 'We have to continue opening global markets. America and China must work together to stem the tide of protectionist sentiment in our nations,' Mr Gutierrez said. In a separate speech, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt also struck a conciliatory note, vowing to work with mainland authorities to improve the safety of food and drug exports. 'We think we are on a glide pattern which will produce a successful outcome in our relationship with the Chinese government,' he said ahead of the signing of agreements on food and drug safety today. The pacifying tone was in marked contrast to the tough stance taken by European Union negotiators at the Sino-European summit last month, when Mr Gutierrez's European counterpart Peter Mandelson denounced the 'tidal wave' of counterfeits sweeping through Europe and EU ministers demanded action to make the yuan appreciate against the euro. Political analysts said that US negotiators had learned from previous talks that emphasising areas of potential co-operation would achieve more positive results than their traditional hardline approach. 'Both sides do not want to make current tensions worse, so they will concentrate on secondary topics such as product safety, and bypass the major problems of the undervalued currency and barriers to market access,' said Shi Yinhong , director of the Centre for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Vice-Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said that a narrow focus on the value of the yuan risked 'hindering the normal development' of trade connections, according to reports in the mainland press yesterday. However, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reiterated last week that America's huge and growing trade deficit with the mainland, which is expected to exceed last year's record US$232.5 billion, would remain a key topic. The US and the EU, the mainland's two largest trading partners, argue that Beijing keeps the value of the yuan artificially low to make the country's exports cheaper. This week's talks, which include today's Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade as well as the strategic economic dialogue tomorrow and on Thursday, are expected to produce more than 10 political and business agreements - though none is likely to compare with Beijing's promise last month to buy US$14.8 billion worth of Airbus airliners. 'The first [strategic economic dialogue] was not a success and the second was only partially successful. From previous experience, it is risky to say that both sides will make a breakthrough this time - though I suspect it will produce some results to mitigate protectionist sentiment in Congress,' Professor Shi said.