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White House offers first details of partial trade deal with China

Views:   Post Date: 12/14/2019 12:02:25 AM

Details emerged Friday from the U.S.’s first-stage trade deal with China, which marked a milestone in President Trump’s initiative to rebalance trade with Beijing but left questions over how far it goes to level the playing field for U.S. businesses.

The limited agreement, capping months of sometimes-testy negotiations, calls for China to purchase more products from American farmers and other exports, U.S. officials said. In return, the U.S. put the brakes on new tariffs set to take effect Sunday and agreed to reduce some existing levies. Both sides termed it a “phase one” deal and said negotiations would continue on remaining issues.

Mr. Trump called the deal “phenomenal” and told reporters in the Oval Office that the U.S. would continue to use the remaining tariffs as leverage in future negotiations with China.

“I say affectionately that the farmers are going to have to go out and buy much larger tractors because it means a lot of business, a tremendous amount of business,” Mr. Trump said.

But doubts remained, with some critics claiming the deal amounted to little more than China agreeing to step up U.S. farm purchases and not make the kind of long-term economic changes that U.S. officials have said are needed to level the playing field for businesses.

“He has sold out for a temporary and unreliable promise from China to purchase some soybeans,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said.

Others said that even with the limitations, the phase-one deal marked a significant turning point in U.S.-China relations.

“This doesn’t solve all of our problems,” said Clete Willems, a former Trump administration economic official and current partner at law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP. “But it is very important for the U.S. and China to be able to say ‘yes’ to each other on some things.”

As part of the deal, the U.S. canceled plans to impose fresh tariffs on $156 billion in annual imports of Chinese-made goods—including smartphones, toys and consumer electronics—that were set to go into effect Sunday. The U.S. will also slash the tariff rate in half on roughly $120 billion of goods affected on Sept. 1, from 15% to 7.5%.

U.S. tariffs of 25% would remain on roughly $250 billion in Chinese goods, including machinery, electronics and furniture. In exchange, officials in Washington said China agreed to increase American agricultural purchases by $32 billion over previous levels over the next two years.

That would increase total farm-product purchases to $40 billion a year, with China working to raise it to $50 billion a year, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters at the White House. The farm purchases would be part of total additional exports of $200 billion over two years, said Mr. Lighthizer, who didn’t provide specifics.

Mr. Lighthizer also said China made specific commitments on intellectual property, including counterfeiting, patent and trademark issues and pharmaceutical rights, as well as on preventing the forced transfer of technology from firms entering the Chinese market. He and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He are expected to sign the deal in early January, with the pact entering into force 30 days later, Mr. Lighthizer said.

While he portrayed the first phase as a crucial step, Mr. Lighthizer acknowledged that tougher issues lay ahead in future negotiating rounds, including opening up closed Chinese markets, if the U.S. is to achieve a fundamental shift in the trade relationship with China.

Neither government submitted a full text or even a detailed summary of the deal, hamstringing efforts to determine the winners and losers in the world’s two biggest economies or the quality of the agreement.

U.S. stock markets ended the day slightly higher, with some analysts saying they were awaiting more details on the specifics.

“The devil remains in the details,” Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said. “We await further word on purported aspects of the agreement including purchases of U.S. farm goods, intellectual property protections, technology transfers and access to China’s financial sector.”

Mr. Lighthizer declined to specify when the two countries would begin active negotiations on phase two, where U.S. negotiators are likely to seek further progress on knottier issues such as Chinese pressure on American businesses to share technology and Beijing’s subsidies to domestic companies.

Chinese negotiators struck a more cautious tone. At a hastily arranged press conference at the main propaganda department in central Beijing, senior Chinese economy officials didn’t disclose much detail, except to confirm that both sides had reached an agreement in principle.

Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, one of China’s lead negotiators, said the U.S. had agreed to remove the remaining tariffs on Chinese products “in stages.” Mr. Lighthizer said there was no agreement on that, and suggested China believes further reductions could be negotiated in subsequent phases of the deal.

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