Beijing inks deals to sustain Trump’s focus on trade talks

Published: 4:00 AM, July 17, 2017

BEIJING — As 100 days of trade talks between the two largest economies rumble to a close, Chinese officials and executives have been roaming the farmland of Iowa and doing what might appeal to United States President Donald Trump most: Deals.

Contracts signed on Thursday — for the import of 12.5 million tonnes of US soya beans and 371 tonnes of pork and beef — can be seen as another result of the renewed economic-diplomacy push started by Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at their April meeting in Florida.

Talks are yielding progress: China is buying American beef again after a 14-year ban, approving more biotech products and increasing US natural gas imports.

But if the nations are to make any meaningful dent in the US$347 billion (S$476 billion) US deficit that is the object of Mr Trump’s ire, they may have to keep negotiating beyond the modest agreements already signed.

“Deals such as the soya beans definitely create favourable conditions for negotiations,” said Mr Gai Xinzhe, an analyst at Bank of China’s Institute of International Finance in Beijing.

“Trump is a businessman and loves making deals. These will give Trump something he can announce at home. But ultimately, it’ll take a very long time to resolve the trade imbalance.” Chinese officials have indicated the 100-day talks will be extended to stretch over a year.

Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED), led by Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, will kick off its first round on Wednesday.

The CED is a new framework for trade and economic negotiations that revamps the preceding Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which was formalised during the Obama administration, and the long-standing Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. Both have drawn criticism for involving too many people and having too few results.

China’s exports to the US rose 19.8 per cent in June from a year earlier, Bloomberg calculations show. Imports climbed 14.8 per cent, leaving the monthly trade surplus at US$25.4 billion and the year-to-date figure at US$117.5 billion.

The CED will sum up the achievements of the 100-day trade talks and discuss what lies ahead for the one-year plan, Mr Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said at a press conference on Thursday. The two sides will also talk about economic coordination, global economic governance, and trade and investment issues, he said.

“The 100-day is mostly about deals, say you import this and we export that, but the CED should cover more ground, and more profound issues,” said Mr Gai. It is unclear whether China will be as active in the CED as in the past 100 days, he said, adding that “everyone is looking forward” to the difference the new dialogue could make.

In future talks, China is likely to strike more deals with the US in agriculture, chemicals and tech, while opening more service sectors including accounting, advertising and law, Mr Wang Hanfeng, an analyst at China International Capital Corp in Shanghai, wrote in a recent note.

The Asian nation is also likely in following negotiations to reduce tariffs and lower market barriers for American companies while seeking more access to US infrastructure construction, the note said.

“China has done its utmost to try to offset the trade surplus with the United States, in addition to promises of more imports of meat and soy, and there’s potential for China to expand grain imports,” said Mr Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd, a private agriculture consulting firm. Mr Li also argued that the US side also has to make concessions to ensure “successful outcomes”. BLOOMBERG