US, China reaffirm commitment to phase one trade deal after call

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WASHINGTON – Top US and Chinese officials reaffirmed their to the phase one trade that has seen lagging on its obligations to buy American goods, providing much needed relief to nervous markets on Tuesday (Aug 25).

The pledge was made in a phone call between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He – their first formal dialogue since early May and came amid growing concerns the deal could be on shaky ground in an increasingly confrontational bilateral relationship.

“Both sides see progress and are committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure the success of the agreement,” USTR said in a statement after what it described as a “regularly scheduled call”.

The call was originally expected on Aug 15, six months after the trade deal was launched.

But US President Donald Trump, who has frequently expressed anger at China over the coronavirus pandemic, said last week he had postponed talks with China because “I don’t want to deal with them now.”

Washington and Beijing have traded sanctions and barbs over a growing list of issues including the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong, China’s disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Covid-19 pandemic and US accusations of national security threats posed by Chinese tech firms.

China’s commerce ministry, in a separate statement, confirmed that the two countries had a “constructive dialogue” and agreed to continue pushing forward the implementation of the phase one trade deal.

The USTR statement said the two sides “addressed steps that China has taken to effectuate structural changes called for by the agreement that will ensure greater protection for intellectual property rights, remove impediments to American companies in the areas of financial services and agriculture, and eliminate forced technology transfer.”

“The parties also discussed the significant increases in purchases of US products by China as well as future actions needed to implement the agreement,” it said.

News of the call helped lift Asian stocks.

“US-China talks are bullish for most commodities as Trump is desperate for good news to help in the election,” said Mr Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agriculture brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney “It could lead to higher demand for US products.”

LAGGING BEHIND

Chinese purchases of US goods are running well behind the pace needed to meet a first year increase of US$77 billion (S$105.43 billion) specified in the deal, according to official data.

While China has recently ramped up buying of farm goods including soybeans, it is far from meeting its commitment to buying US$36.5 billion worth of US agricultural goods under the deal – purchases that Mr Trump has counted on to bolster his support in farm states that backed him in 2016.

The United States exported just US$7.274 billion in agricultural goods to China in the first half of the year, according to the US Census Bureau.

The US comments “showed that they think we are going to keep buying from the US, at least before the election takes place. And we will,” an agricultural goods trader with a Chinese state-owned firm told Reuters, declining to be identified as he was not authorised to speak with media.

“We are definitely going to maintain the stance to buy as much as possible, but it is really hard to say whether the targets can be reached.”

China bought only 5 per cent of the targeted US$25.3 billion in energy products from the United States in the first half of 2020.

Chinese state-owned oil firms have booked tankers to carry at least 20 million barrels of US crude for August and September.

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