After months of bashing China for its trade practices, the Trump administration said it had agreed with Beijing on a broad range of measures aimed at improving the access of American beef producers, electronic-payments providers and natural-gas exporters, among others, to the world’s second-largest economy.
Some items on a 10-point plan the White House released Thursday address longstanding irritants between the two countries, as both governments strive to show warming ties while seeking cooperation on a range of economic and diplomatic issues like North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. Others are general principles and may not ensure concrete policy changes beyond promises to try to expand commerce in certain sectors.
“U.S.-China relationships are now hitting a new high especially in trade,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in unveiling the package at the White House.
The plan was reached as part of a new economic dialogue launched when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort home in early April and was unveiled shortly before a high-profile global economic summit Mr. Xi is hosting Sunday in Beijing. Chinese officials have been eager for the U.S. to signal support for that meeting.
The Trump administration said the plan reflected an agreement reached with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang, and it portrayed its announcement as a “joint release” with the Chinese government.
At a news conference in Beijing an hour after the White House statement, China said the two sides had made “active progress on key issues” and had reached consensus on how to proceed over the next year. Its language mirrored the White House statement.
It is unclear how much, if at all, the changes would reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which reached $347 billion last year and has been a major complaint of Mr. Trump’s. While the Trump administration hailed the measures as breakthroughs, many of them were related to sectors where U.S. negotiators have repeatedly over the years claimed progress in entering China’s market, only to get stymied by new roadblocks.
Mr. Trump has regularly talked tough on trade so far during his presidency, but he has pulled back from dramatic action even while declaring victory for modest moves. His approach has frustrated some supporters of the sharp changes he promised with an “American First” trade policy. Mr. Ross’s claims on Thursday of quickly improved trade relations with China over long-entrenched problems may prompt similar skepticism if the measures don’t bear fruit.
“So far this administration’s trade strategy amounts to a muddle of 140-character tweets, mixed message, and overhyped announcements that are backed by little substance,” Orgeon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat in the Senate’s trade committee, said during congressional debate Thursday.
The biggest points in the 10-point plan are aimed at the American agriculture and financial sectors, which are being promised greater access in a range of areas. In addition to beef, China agreed to accelerate the process for approving U.S. biotechnology products. Beyond electronic payments, Beijing also said it would grant more access to U.S. credit ratings firms and bond underwriters.
In return, the U.S. promised it would remove obstacles to importing Chinese poultry meat and pledged that it “welcomes direct investment by Chinese entrepreneurs,” reassuring words at a time when Washington is heightening scrutiny of Chinese investment as a national security threat.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a lukewarm statement in response to the plan, saying that it is “hopefully ensuring full and timely implementation of commitments China has already made” and that “the real work lies ahead.”
One of the biggest moves was the agreement on China’s beef market by mid-July. Reopening China to U.S.-produced beef, Mr. Ross said, paves the way to a $2.5 billion market that U.S. ranchers and meatpackers haven’t been able to fully access since 2003. China that year banned most U.S. beef imports partly due to concerns over “mad cow” disease.
China’s expanding middle class has made the country the fastest-growing beef market in the world and an appetizing target for U.S. cattlemen, who have grappled with lower prices in recent years due to a buildup in U.S. meat supplies generally.
China also agreed to convene its national biosafety committee by the end of May to evaluate eight pending biotechnology product applications, which have awaited approval from Chinese crop regulators.
The Trump administration’s effort to hasten China’s regulatory reviews for genetically modified seeds follows years of complaints by crop developers about the country’s lengthy and opaque approval process. The move could help seed companies like Monsanto Co. , Syngenta AG and Dow Chemical Co.
The new plan also aims to give a lift to the American natural-gas industry, with the Chinese government giving a green light to Chinese companies to import more gas. It didn’t address the bigger concern for Chinese companies over whether they would be allowed to invest in U.S. energy infrastructure, such as export terminals and gas pipelines.
China has a bevvy of options when it comes to importing liquefied natural gas, including big emerging producers in the Asia-Pacific such as Australia and Papua New Guinea, which would compete with the U.S. for China’s potentially lucrative market.
The financial planks of the plan appear to offer more small steps in China’s opening its markets to big U.S. players. China has pledged to take steps to allow U.S. electronic-payments firms to seek licenses by mid-July, giving them “full and prompt access,” according to the White House fact sheet.
If that happens, it would be a major step for Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., which have long sought to do business in China but have been repeatedly frustrated by broken pledges to open up the market, even after the U.S. won a World Trade Organization case over the issue.
One factor that appeared to be driving the timing of the announcement was Mr. Xi’s upcoming “One Belt One Road” summit, which is aimed at reviving the Silk Road trading route. The announcement included a statement that the U.S. “recognizes the importance” of the initiative.
While some countries are sending heads of state, the U.S. had originally planned to send a low-level Commerce Department official. It now plans to send Matthew Pottinger, the White House’s top Asia expert, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Source: The Wall Street Journal May 12, 2017 | By Jacob M. Schlesinger, Christopher M. Matthews and Jacob Bunge