By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has stepped up its communications with China over trade, the White House's top economic adviser said on Wednesday, as people familiar with the effort said an invitation for a new round of trade talks was sent to Beijing.
The invitation from senior U.S. officials led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was sent to Chinese counterparts, including Vice Premier Liu He, these sources said.
The outreach comes as the Trump administration prepares to activate tariffs on $200 billion (153.06 billion pounds)worth of Chinese goods, hitting a broad array of internet technology products and consumer goods from handbags to bicycles to furniture.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow would not confirm the meeting invitation, but said that communication with Beijing had "picked up a notch.""The Treasury Department is in communication with China. I can't go beyond that," Kudlow told reporters outside the White House.
He added that he views such communication as "a positive thing."
"I think most of us think it's better to talk than not to talk, and I think the Chinese government is willing to talk," Kudlow said, declining to provide any further details.
Asked if the Trump administration would like to have additional trade talks with China, Kudlow said: "If they come to the table in a serious way to generate some positive results, yes of course. That's what we've been asking for months and months."
But he cautioned: "I guarantee nothing."
The timing and location of the proposed meeting were unclear, the sources familiar with the matter said. Mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials met on Aug. 22 and 23 with no agreements.
A U.S. Treasury spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The invitation was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. A meeting among cabinet-level officials could ease market worries over the escalating tariff war that threatens to engulf all trade between the world's two largest economies and raise costs for companies and consumers.
So far, the United States and China have hit $50 billion worth of each others' goods with tariffs in a dispute over U.S. demands that China make sweeping economic policy changes, including ending joint venture and technology transfer policies, rolling back industrial subsidy programs and better protecting American intellectual property.
U.S. President Donald Trump last week said that in addition to preparing tariffs on another $200 billion worth of goods, he had tariffs on another $267 billion worth of goods "ready to on short notice if I want."
U.S. business groups are escalating their fight against Trump's tariffs, with over 60 industry groups launching a coalition to put political pressure on the Trump administration to seek alternatives to tariffs.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by David Lawder and Ginger Gibson; writing by David Lawder; editing by Leslie Adler)