U.S.-China Phase I Agreement

Continued Stress in U.S.-China relations — Reduced Cooperation in Multilateral Fora

The two largest economies in the world view each other as competitors and potential adversaries. With significantly different political and economic systems and ideologies, the United States and China have had different perspectives on commitments and obligations undertaken in the economic sphere.

U.S. concerns

Specifically, the United States has viewed its bilateral trade negotiations with China and the later conclusion of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) as having created a commitment by China to continue on market-based reforms with the eventual conversion of the Chinese economy into a market-economy consistent with the basic rules of the WTO. There have been high level dialogues between the two countries for years with a feeling in the U.S. that repeated commitments by China to fulfill commitments have not been honored and that the bilateral relationship had growing serious problems.

China concerns

China has had a different view of the world and its obligations to other countries through its joining the WTO. Reforms continued for a while but were replaced with a growing focus on state direction, state investment and heavy subsidization of a widespread number of sectors. China has viewed the United States as attempting to prevent its economic growth and global role and as not respecting its “right” to view itself as a developing country within the WTO and hence to have fewer obligations than a developed country.

Trump Administration changes approach

Under the Trump Administration, the United States has taken a more aggressive approach to dealing with what it perceives as distortions in economic competition and lack of meaningful reciprocity in the bilateral trade relationship. The U.S. has also looked at bilateral and multilateral approaches to address the problems it perceives China has created and is creating with the functioning of the global trading system.

Bilaterally, the U.S. has conducted its 301 investigation on a host of longstanding concerns of the U.S. business community on Chinese policies and practices. The adverse findings from the USTR investigation has led to the U.S. imposing additional tariffs on Chinese goods when resolution of the underlying issues was not achieved followed by retaliation by China and a series of additional rounds of more tariffs and more retaliation. The U.S. and China did engage in negotiations to see if they could resolve the underlying concerns of the United States. A phase 1 agreement was signed in January 2020, with a phase 2 process supposed to have commenced by May.

At the same time, the United States has pursued reform at the WTO (1) to address longstanding and bipartisan concerns with the WTO dispute settlement system, (2) to address rule changes to address some of the distortions that flow from China’s nonmarket economy, (3) to modify the self-selection nature of which Members are “developing” and (4) to improve transparency.

On transparency, many countries are not current on the various notification requirements, but major concerns have existed with China and India in terms of the number and dollar value of subsidy programs that are not being reported in their notifications to the WTO.

Some of the reforms of interest to the United States are being pursued as well by others, such as the EU and Japan on state-invested companies and industrial subsidies and various other countries on transparency.

But the WTO has been struggling to achieve forward movement on many issues of importance to different Members in part due to lack of consensus on issues and a lack of leadership/coordination among major players.

COVID-19 Complicates the Bilateral Relationship

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the situation for the WTO and for U.S.-China relations both because of the global reach of the health problem resulting in reduced functionality of the Missions in Geneva and the current inability to hold face-to-face meetings and the widespread use of export restraints on medical goods (including personal protection equipment like masks, gloves, shields, gowns, etc.) as demand in nations with significant number of infections has grossly exceeded existing inventories and production capabilities both in country and globally.

In terms of U.S.-China relations, the lack of complete transparency by the Chinese in the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, some slowness of action by the World Health Organization, and both missteps on testing and slowness of initial action within the United States (and resulting massive unemployment, costs to the economy and multiple trillion dollar government response) has added finger pointing on the pandemic to the already tense bilateral relations. It has also resulted in the U.S. distrusting the WHO and temporarily suspending U.S. funding for the organization.

With the collapse in global trade, the pandemic has also made it far less likely that China will honor its increased import commitments from the U.S. in 2020 as contained in the Phase 1 Agreement. See U.S.-China Phase I Agreement – some progress on structural changes; far behind on trade in goods and services, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/05/12/u-s-china-phase-i-agreement-some-progress-on-structural-changes-far-behind-on-trade-in-goods-and-services/. That said, the U.S. continues to identify important advances being made at least in agriculture with China. See https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/usda-and-ustr-announce-continued-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement.

On trade, the pandemic has crippled the economies of many countries with the resulting declines in imports and exports in the March-April time frame and likely going forward for some period, though China as the first country through the outbreak and a major producer of medical goods actually saw increased overall exports to the world in April.

United States Strategic Approach to The People’s Republic of China

Earlier this week, the White House forwarded to Congress a document required by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, United States Strategic Approach to The People’s Republic of China. On the trade/economic front, the paper repeats the concerns that the Administration has laid out in other documents most of which are summarized above (not including the COVID-19 issues). The U.S. views challenges from China to three broad areas — (1) economic challenges (largely failure to continue reforms to become a market economy, failure to honor commitments made to the US, use of predatory practices, insistence on being a developing country, etc.); (2) challenges to U.S. values; and (3) security challenges. The link to the document is here and the text is embedded below. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf.

U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20

Challenges for the WTO

The WTO remains able to move forward where issues are limited to a subset (the “willing”) as progress on e-commerce talks would support. But in a consensus based system, distrust between major players will paralyze large parts of any agenda. Indeed, with the large number of WTO Members (164) at various stages of economic development, there will almost always be a wide divergence of views on any issue. In such a situation, leadership and cooperation among major economies become important to develop a consensus. So it is hard to see how the WTO advances a reform agenda without improved relations between the organization’s two largest Members.

With the recently added challenge for the WTO of selecting a new Director-General, the sour relationship the U.S. and China will likely make finding a candidate who would be supported by a consensus of the Membership that much harder, suggesting at a minimum a process that takes the full six-month time for selection (versus any hoped for expeditious resolution in light of DG Azevedo’s departure at the end of August) and perhaps extended time lines. If the selection process breaks down into highly polarized camps (the existing procedures were developed to try to prevent such an outcome), the ability to move forward the WTO’s reform and existing negotiating agenda will be delayed by certainly months and perhaps longer.

Conclusion

At a time when the world is struggling with a global pandemic which continues to cause huge health challenges to many countries in the world and has devastated the global economy at least temporarily, costing tens of millions of workers jobs, and likely closing hundreds of thousand of businesses around the world while requiring government financial support that will likely exceed ten trillion dollars, there is an unfortunate lack of global cooperation between the major economic players and distrust at least from the U.S. of multilateral institutions viewed as either ineffective to deal with China’s economic system or not operating in an unbiased manner.

A major part of the challenge flows from the distrust that exists between the world’s two largest economies that precedes the pandemic but that has been worsened by the pandemic’s development and handling. The two countries have different economic systems which are essentially non-compatible, have different political systems and different ideologies and view each other as competitors and potential adversaries.

In a change of approach, the United States has decided to take a more aggressive approach to achieve reciprocity in fact with China and not merely on paper or from spoken promises. The change in approach has resulted in the U.S. acting unilaterally in certain situations. China has appeared unable to understand or agree with the concerns raised by the U.S. (and others) and harbors a belief that the real motive behind U.S. actions is “to keep China down”. This mutual distrust has resulted in both hard feelings and an inability to achieve cooperation on a large number of trade, economic and other issues.

The current U.S.-China relationship increases the problems for many multilateral organizations, but certainly for the WTO both in terms of selecting a new Director-General and in developing WTO reforms and moving ongoing negotiations forward.

Look for a challenging second half of 2020.

U.S.-China Phase I Agreement — Some Progress on Structural Changes; Far Behind on Trade in Goods and Services

In prior posts, I reviewed the U.S.-China Phase I Agreement and the commitments made by the parties. See https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/19/u-s-china-phase-1-agreement-details-on-the-expanding-trade-chapter/; https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/01/15/u-s-china-phase-1-trade-agreement-signed-on-january-15-an-impressive-agreement-if-enforced/. While for many the promised start of a Phase II was viewed as the more important in light of the issues not reached in the partial deal that was struck in January, the COVID-19 pandemic has absorbed much of the global energy for both countries, and no new talks have started.

Moreover, with both countries exchanging charges against the other in terms of the origin of the virus causing the pandemic and more recently concerns about transparency on the virus in China, there have been heightened tensions between the two countries. with some comments in the press calling for an end of the agreement by each country.

A recent telephone call between U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, USTR Ambassador Lighthizer and China’s Vice Premier Liu He seemed aimed at keeping the Phase I Agreement moving forward. The US press release on the call is reproduced below.

“USTR and Treasury Statement on Call With China

“05/07/2020

“Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, and Ambassador Robert Lighthizer participated in a conference call today. They discussed economic and trade issues, including the recently concluded Phase One agreement. The parties shared updates on COVID-19 and their assessments of its effects on economic growth as well as the measures their countries are taking to provide support to their economies.

“The parties discussed the ongoing process of implementing the Phase One agreement between the two countries that went into effect February 14. Both sides agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success. They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner. Meetings required by the agreement have been conducted via conference call and will continue on a regular basis.”

https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/may/ustr-and-treasury-statement-call-china.

Indeed, notices on Chinese Ministry websites as well as statements from U.S. government officials have made clear that China has been making progress on a number of the changes to laws and regulations where commitments were undertaken in the Phase I Agreement. For example on the large number of agricultural program changes that China agreed to make, USDA and USTR released a joint statement in late February, shortly after the Agreement took effect, reviewing the progress being made. See https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2020/february/usda-and-ustr-announce-progress-implementation-us-china-phase-one-agreement.

USDA-and-USTR-Announce-Progress-on-Implementation-of-U.S.-China-Phase-One-Agreement-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

Similarly, the United States has taken steps to address obligations that it undertook in the Agreement such as authorizing the importation of citrus products from China. See 85 FR 20975-20983 (April 15, 2020; https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sa-04/china-citrus.

“APHIS Authorizes Importation of Fresh Citrus Fruit from China

“Last Modified: Apr 14, 2020 Print

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is authorizing the importation of five types of commercially produced fresh citrus fruit from China into the continental United States. After thorough analysis, APHIS scientists determined that pummelo, Nanfeng honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange, and Satsuma mandarin fruit from China can be safely imported into the United States under a systems approach to protect against the introduction of plant pests. 

“A systems approach is a series of measures taken by growers, packers, and shippers that, in combination, minimize pest risks prior to importation into the United States. In this case, the systems approach includes importation in commercial consignments only, registration of places of production and packinghouses, certification that the fruit is free of quarantine pests, trapping program for fruit flies, periodic inspections of places of production, grove sanitation, and postharvest disinfection and treatment. This completes agreements on another Chinese commodity listed in Annex 11: Plant Health of the Economic and Trade Agreement between the United States of America and The People’s Republic of China, Phase One.

“This notice of authorization will go into effect on the date of publication in the Federal Register, April 15, 2020. The docket with information about this decision is available here upon publication on April 15, 2020: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2014-0005.”

Expanding Trade -Growing Exports to China from the U.S. by $76.7 Billion in 2020

One of the important parts of the Phase I Agreement was the chapter on Expanding Trade and the commitments by China to increase imports from the United States by some $200 billion over 2020 and 2021 above the 2017 figures (i.e., U.S. exports to China ahead of the additional tariffs imposed by the U.S. and then China against goods from each other). The figures for 2020 were for increases of $76.7 billion, $64.9 billion in certain goods and $12.8 billion in certain service sectors.

The challenges to the Chinese economy in the first quarter because of COVID-19 and to the United States (and many other countries) for part of the 1st quarter and at least the second quarter of 2020 because of the pandemic makes the large increase in purchases seem unlikely. Certainly, first quarter figures for U.S. domestic goods exports paint a picture suggesting 2020 will not meet objectives. The goods categories that were included in Annex 6.1 and the Attachment thereto of the Phase I Agreement accounted for 59.1% of U.S. domestic exports to China in 2017 (the base year)– $70.9 billion of $119.9 billion total U.S. domestic exports to China. In the first quarter of 2020, the goods categories covered by the Annex showed U.S. domestic exports of $12.7 billion which would leave $122.1 billion to be exported in the last nine months of 2020 ($13.57 billion/month or greater each month than the U.S. exported in the first quarter of the year).

The remaining $49 billion of U.S. domestic exports don’t have particular export targets, but are running well below 2017 levels and indeed are more than 21% lower than the first quarter 2019 levels, suggesting 2020 levels of just $28.29 billion.

The table below shows the US exports for 2017-March 2020 and the objective for 2020 included in Annex 6.1. All figures are in $ Billions.

Product2017201820191st Qtr.
2019
1st Qtr.
2020
Manufactured goods
1. industrial machinery$10.949$12.288$11.062$2.318$2.500
2. electrical equip. &
machinery
$4.311$4.586$4.283$1.008$1.078
3. pharmaceutical
products
$2.089$2.126$2.362$0.483$0.665
4. aircraft* $0$0$0$0$0
5. vehicles$10.093$6.487$7.050$1.888$1.049
6. optical and medical
instruments
$3.135$3.398$3.527$0.763$$0.806
7. iron and steel$1.176$0.652$0.285$0.075$0.069
8. other manufactured
goods
$10.702$11.168$11.914$3.167$3.021
Total MFG goods$42.456$40.705$40.484$9.702$9.188
Agriculture
9. oilseeds$12.225$3.119$7.989$1.696$1.028
10. meat$0.559$0.440$1.193$0.110$0.727
11. cereals$1.358$0.696$0.313$0.015$0.119
12. cotton$0.973$0.921$0.707$0.197$0.290
13. other agricultural
commodities
$4.504$4.121$3.680$0.765$0.768
14. seafood$1.234$1.055$0.822$0.200$0.132
Total Agriculture$20.852$10.353$14.704$2.983$3.063
Energy
15. liquefied natural
gas
$0.424$0.464$0.063$0.036$0.059
15. crude oil$4.304$5.374$2.478$0.405$0.182
17. refined products$2.444$1.781$0.469$0.185$0.141
18. coal$0.403$0.311$0.127$0.047$0.048
Total Energy$7.575$7.930$3.138$0.674$0.429
Total Phase I Goods HS$70.882$58.987$58.326$13.360$12.680
Other domestic exports$49.028$50.593$36.005$9.435$6.798
Total domestic exports
to China
$119.911$109.580$94.331$22.795$19.478

Annex 6.1 has manufactured goods increasing $32.9 billion above 2017 levels for a total of $75.356 billion for 2020; leaving $66.168 billion for the last nine months of the year or $7,352 billion/month for the last three quarters.

Similarly, Annex 6.1 has agriculture imports by China from the U.S. increasing $12.5 billion over 2017 levels to $33.354 billion for 2020 which would leave $31.015 billion for the last nine months of 2020 ($3.446 billion/month).

Finally, Annex 6.1 shows energy increasing by $18.5 billion in 2020 over 2017 levels. That means 2020 has a target of $26.075 billion with $25.646 billion needing to be exported over the last nine months ($2.86 billion/month).

With the ongoing pandemic and Chinese industry operating below full capacity and U.S. industry and agriculture still coping with the market problems in the U.S. from efforts to cope with COVID-19, it is hard to see the goods commitments being met in 2020.

The challenges for the US service sector in exports to China are equally daunting. Total U.S. exports of services to China in 2017 were $56.009 billion of which $55.458 billion are in categories covered by Annex 6.1. Specifically, category 19, charges for use of intellectual property were $7.591 billion in 2017 for U.S. services exports to China. Business travel and tourism (category 20) showed U.S. exports to China of $32.705 billion in 2017. Financial services and insurance (category 21) had exports to China of $4.208 billion in 2017, while other services (category 22) showed exports of $10.030 billion to China. Finally, cloud and related services had exports to China in 2017 of $0.924 billion.

U.S. services export data for 2020 doesn’t show the breakdown by category by country. However, China has a much larger percent of U.S. services exports in the travel and tourism category (about 25% for all countries vs. 58.4% for China). U.S. data for the first quarter of 2020 show exports of travel and tourism services to the world down 19.5% with March being down more than 50%.

With the travel limitations in place in the U.S. and that have been in place in China and with the slow ability of the U.S. to reopen much of the travel and tourism related sectors (transportation, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.), there seems to be no realistic scenario by which US service exports to China grow $12.5 billion in 2020.

Conclusion

The U.S.-China Phase I Agreement was an important step in trying to find a path forward for normalized trade relations between the world’s two largest economies. The path requires the start of a Phase 2 but importantly needs the building of confidence between the two countries based on achieving results in implementing the Phase I Agreement.

There have been extraordinary events clouding the global community as nations struggle to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Those events have complicated the ability of the U.S. and China to achieve in 2020 what the Phase I Agreement contemplates, at least in terms of expanded trade. That said, both China and the U.S. have implemented certain provisions of the Agreement, and there has been a recognition by the U.S. Administration of efforts by China to comply with modifications to laws, regulations, etc. agreed to in the Phase I Agreement.

The first two months that the Agreement has been in place have not resulted in significant movement on implementing the important chapter of expanding trade. For the United States, struggling to right its economy amidst the pandemic, a strong effort by China to honor its commitments to expand trade significantly in 2020, would be a welcome development and hopefully lead to the reengagement by the two countries to start and complete a phase 2 Agreement.