Business

Doubts linger after U.S. and China ink initial trade deal

Reuters

China will boost spending on U.S. products in exchange for rolling back of some tariffs under an initial trade deal signed by the world’s two largest economies Wednesday, defusing an 18-month row but leaving numerous thorny issues unresolved.

Beijing and Washington touted the “phase one” agreement as a step forward after months of stop-start talks, and investors greeted the news with relief. Even so, there was skepticism over whether the U.S.-China trade relationship was now firmly on the mend.

The deal fails to address the structural economic issues that led to the trade conflict, does not fully eliminate the tariffs that have slowed the global economy, and sets hard-to-achieve purchase targets, analysts and industry leaders said.

While acknowledging the need for further negotiations with China to solve a host of other problems, President Donald Trump hailed the agreement as a win for the U.S. economy and his administration’s trade policies.

“Together, we are righting the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers and families,” Trump said in rambling remarks at the White House alongside U.S. and Chinese officials.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He read a letter from President Xi Jinping in which the Chinese leader praised the deal as a sign the two countries could resolve their differences with dialogue.

The centerpiece of the deal is a pledge by China to purchase at least an additional $200 billion worth of U.S. farm products and other goods and services over two years, above a baseline of $186 billion in purchases in 2017, the White House said.

Commitments include $54 billion in additional energy purchases, $78 billion in additional manufacturing purchases, $32 billion more in farm products, and $38 billion in services, according to deal documents released by the White House and China’s Finance Ministry.

Liu said Chinese companies would buy $40 billion in U.S. agricultural products annually over the next two years “based on market conditions,” which may dictate the timing of purchases in any given year. Beijing had previously balked at committing to buy set amounts of U.S. farm goods, and has inked new soybean contracts with Brazil since the trade war started.

The deal does not end retaliatory tariffs on American farm exports, makes farmers “increasingly reliant” on Chinese state-controlled purchases and does not address “big structural changes,” said Michelle Erickson-Jones, a wheat farmer and spokeswoman for Farmers for Free Trade, in a statement.

Trump and his economic advisers had pledged to attack Beijing’s long-standing practice of propping up state-owned companies and flooding international markets with low-priced goods as the trade war heated up.

Although the deal could be a boost to U.S. farmers, automakers and heavy equipment manufacturers, some analysts question China’s ability to divert imports from other trading partners to the United States.

Trump, who has embraced an “America First” policy aimed at rebalancing global trade in favor of U.S. companies and workers, said China had pledged action to confront the problem of pirated or counterfeited goods and said the deal included strong protection for intellectual property rights.

U.S. Speaker of the House of Representative Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump’s China strategy had “inflicted deep, long-term damage to American agriculture and rattled our economy in exchange for more of the promises that Beijing has been breaking for years.”

Earlier, top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News the agreement would add 0.5 percentage point to U.S. gross domestic product growth in both 2020 and 2021.

Aviation industry sources said Boeing Co. was expected to win a major order for wide-body jets from China, including its 787 or 777-9 models or a mixture of both.

CCTV, China’s state-run television outlet, said the deal would satisfy China’s increasingly demanding consumers by supplying products like dairy, poultry, beef, pork and processed meat from the United States.

The phase one deal canceled planned U.S. tariffs on Chinese-made cellphones, toys and laptop computers and halved the tariff rate to 7.5 percent on about $120 billion worth of other Chinese goods, including flat-panel televisions, Bluetooth headphones and footwear.

But it will leave in place 25 percent tariffs on a $250-billion array of Chinese industrial goods and components used by U.S. manufacturers, and China’s retaliatory tariffs on over $100 billion in U.S. goods.

Tariffs on Chinese imports have cost U.S. companies $46 billion. Evidence is mounting that tariffs have raised input costs for U.S. manufacturers, eroding their competitiveness.

Trump, who has been touting the phase one deal as a pillar of his 2020 re-election campaign, said he would agree to remove the remaining tariffs once the two sides had negotiated a “phase two” agreement.

“We’ve already begun discussions on a phase two deal,” Vice President Mike Pence said in a Fox Business Network interview.