HONG KONG – Breaking down barriers to investment and prying open markets are mutual goals likely to top the agenda at talks between Chinese and U.S. officials in Washington next week, with the spotlight away from the currency issues that have dominated in the past.

Analysts don’t expect any major breakthroughs on market-access issues, such as complaints aired by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke earlier this week that U.S. corporations aren’t getting a fair shake in accessing China’s domestic market or bidding on government contracts.

“The U.S. is not all that anxious to talk about the yuan exchange rate as the principal issue, but instead wants to focus on the ability of U.S. firms to participate more” in the Chinese market, said Cantor Fitzgerald economist Uwe Parpart in Hong Kong.

Among concerns cited by Locke earlier this week were a lack of progress in overcoming barriers that block U.S. companies from bidding on public contracts in China.

Locke, expected to be named the next U.S. ambassador to China, told The Wall Street Journal that Beijing has made little headway on the issue in spite of a pledge in December to lift restrictions on U.S. firms in its foreign investment catalog.

Parpart says he’s not optimistic any major agreements will be forged by the conclusion of the two-day meeting, known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which kicks off Monday.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo will represent the Chinese delegation at the Washington talks, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will head the U.S. side.

Policy breakthroughs typically aren’t part of the culture of these talks, Parpart noted, adding that headway in resolving issues involving market access and intellectual-property rights tend to be gradual.

Among other U.S. concerns are perceptions that China’s corporate sector is able to tap cheap credit from Chinese banks, giving them an advantage over foreign competitors.

Some economists have said China’s financial sector indirectly provides what are essentially subsidies to state-owned enterprises, or SOEs, and export-oriented industries via cheap lending rates, much of which are underpinned by the nation’s vast pool of savers who have limited investment options.

“Access to low-cost credits gives SOEs a competitive advantage over private firms, including the U.S. companies,” said RBS analyst Li Cui in Hong Kong. Cui added that China may pay greater heed to calls for reform as foreign interest in the issue grows.

But Beijing said Friday that the reason some foreign companies were struggling in its domestic market had more to do with a lack of competitiveness than market access.

“China provides a level playing field for all enterprises regarding issues of innovation, intellectual-property rights and government procurement,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman was cited as saying in the state-run China Daily.

For their own part, Chinese negotiators are seeking greater access to the U.S. market. Several high-profile attempts by Chinese to purchase U.S. assets have been blocked on national-security grounds.

“We hope that the United States will provide a healthy, legal and institutional setting for investment. In particular, we hope that the United States will not discriminate against Chinese state-owned companies.” Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said Friday.

Another concern is that the decline in the U.S. dollar is eroding the value of China’s investments in U.S. Treasurys.

China saw a foreign-exchange loss of about $271 billion on dollar-denominated forex reserves accumulated since 2003, much of it invested in U.S. debt markets, according to calculations by a senior government researcher that were reported in mainland Chinese media this week.

Still, China’s investments abroad are said to be the verge of an exponential rise. Mainland Chinese businesses are set to invest about $1 trillion into overseas markets by 2020, according to reports citing Asia Society estimates earlier this week.

China’s investment into the U.S. reached $3.3 billion at the end of 2009, and may have risen to around $4 billion by the end of 2010, according to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

Meanwhile, U.S. companies have invested about $80 billion in China, when counting direct investments and those channeled through Hong Kong, according to the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch estimates.