technology transfer

U.S.-China Phase 1 Trade Agreement Signed on January 15 — An Impressive Agreement if Enforced

There has been a lot of anticipation for what the Phase 1 agreement between the U.S. and China actually contains. Earlier today, following the signing ceremony at the White House, The Economic and Trade Agreement Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, Phase 1 was released.

I’ve just finished reading through the agreement.  My first blush read is that the agreement has a lot of positive potential for the United States. While enforcability is always a critical consideration and particularly based on the U.S. experience with other commitments made by China in the past, there are some chapters which have both great specificity on obligations and specific timeline commitments that should make at least those chapters potential important improvements.

A quick overview of the agreement follows.

Intellectual Property

Chapter 1 on intellectual property is quite interesting as it lays out a large number of obligations China is taking on by individual IP issue and confirms that US system already has such obligations.  The chapter is broken into the following topics:

Trade secrets and confidential business information;

Pharmaceutical-related intellectual property;


Geographical indications;

Manufacture and export of pirated and counterfeit goods;

Bad-faith trademarks;

Bilateral cooperation on intellectual property protection;


The specificity of commitments and timing for action are important in hopefully making this a really important chapter for companies with intellectual property needs and current concerns in China’s performance on such matters. USTR’s fact sheet on the IP chapter presents the Administration’s view of what was achieved. My own view is that Chapter 1 is an important plus for the U.S.

Forced Technology Transfer

The technology transfer chapter is limited and doesn’t appear to be more enforceable than the multiple laws, etc. China has had for years. While the chapter states the obligations, China has historically been of the view that technology transfer is not enforced in fact. The Administration understandably views the chapter as important, and the pressure of the 301 investigation and tariffs that remain may make the chapter more valuable than the general statements it consists of suggest. In my view, this is more of a placeholder chapter. Hopefully it will be honored in fact but the past doesn’t show that as a high probability.

Trade in Food and Agricultural Products

The third chapter on agriculture could be very important for changing the U.S. agricultural export scene as the chapter goes through a large number of products, establishes timelines and standards against which US products will be evaluated and or requires acceptance of various US products that have met US standards. The Administration gets straight A’s for the breadth and depth of this chapter in my view. There are seventeen annexes that take up the following topics or products:

Annex 1, agricultural cooperation

Annex 2, dairy and infant formula

Annex 3, poultry

Annex 4, beef

Annex 5, live breeding cattle

Annex 6, pork

Annex 7, meat, poultry and processed meat

Annex 8, electronic meat and poultry information system

Annex 9, aquatic products

Annex 10, rice

Annex 11, plant health

Annex 12, feed additives, premixes, compound feed, distillers’ dried grains, and distillers’ dried grains with solubles

Annex 13, pet food and non-ruminant derived animal feed

Annex 14, tariff rate quotas

Annex 15, domestic support

Annex 16, agricultural biotechnology

Annex 17, food safety

The chapter also includes an Appendix which lists beef, pork and poultry products considered not eligible for import into China which US producers will need to review. There are also side letters released with the agreement that address products and producers who will have immediate access to China consistent with the chapter. The Administration has a fact sheet on agriculture chapter in total and then on individual products. The chapter fact sheet’s link follows.

Financial Services

The fourth chapter on financial services is also quite interesting and is the one chapter where there are specific US obligations identified (typically considering expeditiously pending applications by Chinese financial service providers in specific areas).  US companies have had many problems for the last 20 years in terms of China’s permitting access.  Looks to me that the chapter, if implemented (and there are timelines, etc.) could be important for US companies. Subjects covered include banking services, credit rating services, electronic payment services, financial asset management (distressed debt) services, insurance services, and securities, fund management, futures services. The Administration’s fact sheet on financial services provides its views on the importance of the chapter.

Macroeconomic Policies and Exchange Rate Matters and Transparency

The fifth chapter on currency contains four articles. One is on general provisions. The second is on exchange rate practices. The third addresses transparency. And the fourth article covers the enforcement mechanism. While China was widely viewed as engaging in reducing the value of its currency for many years and was last year found by the Trump Administration to be a currency manipulator, most economists have viewed China as less problematic on its currency in recent years.  It is important to have a chapter focused on transparency and currency practices. Unclear how effective the enforcement provisions outlined will be in fact. But hopefully, China’s actions will not raise concerns under this chapter going forward. The Administration’s fact sheet presents its views of what was accomplished in the chapter.

Expanding Trade

The sixth chapter is potentially commercially important as it addresses China’s commitments to increase purchases from the United States in both goods and services. The actual text clarifies that the $200 billion additional imports by China over 2017 levels are the combination of increases over 2017 in 2020 and 2021 versus being a requirement for each year.  Such growth is more achievable and less unrealistic in my view.

The targets for growth are presented in four groups – manufactured goods, agricultural goods, energy, services and then the categories that are considered within each of the four groups are shown on pages 6-4 – 6-23 of the Agreement.  The growth above 2017 levels for the four broad categories is shown below.

manufactured goods$32.9 BN$44.8 BN$77.7 BN
agriculture$12.5 BN$19.5 BN$32.0 BN
energy$18.5 BN$33.9 BN$52.4 BN
services$12.8 BN$25.1 BN$37.9 BN
Total$76.7 BN$123.3 BN$200.0 BN

A lot of attention will be focused on whether the purchases actually happen.  Actions under Chapter 3 will directly improve US exports of agricultural goods and those of Chapter 4 will improve the financial services portion of the services target.  The IP chapter could be affect manufactured goods, etc. So much of the Phase 1 Agreement should result in a natural increase in imports from the U.S. as longstanding barriers are removed or otherwise overcome.

The Administration’s fact sheet on expanded trade can be found here.

Bilateral Evaluation and Dispute Resolution

A lot of focus will be given to Chapter 7 because of the importance of enforcement. However, as noted above, enforcement should be easier where there has been the level of detail/specificity as to obligations and timelines for implementing individual obligations that exists in many of the chapters.

On enforcement, Chapter 7, lays out the basic purpose of the bilateral evaluation and dispute resolution arrangement in Article 7.1. Paragraph 2 of that Article provides the objectives, reflecting both the U.S. desire for speed and the Chinese desire for mutual respect and avoidance of escalation.

“The purpose and madate of the Arrangaement are to effectively implement this Agreement, to resolve issues in the economic and trade relationship of the Parties in a fair, expeditious, and respectful manner, and to avoid the escalation of economic and trade disputes and their impact on other areas of the Parties’ relationship. The Parties recognize the importance of strengthened bilateral communications in this effort.”

There are various elements to the chapter including a high level Trade Framework Group (USTR and designated Vice Premier of the PRC).  Each country will have a Bilateral Evaluation and Dispute Resolution Office which will, inter alia, handle disputes and includes opportunities for appeals on short time lines, referral to USTR and the Vice Premier and the ability of the complaining party to take action if not resolved with either no retaliation (complained against party views action taken as in good faith) or the need to withdraw from the agreement for the party complained against if the belief is that the action was not taken in good faith.

I believe that the Chapter will effectively help the Parties resolve disputes particularly with regard to the commitments in Chapter 1, 3,  4 and 6. 


The Phase 1 Agreement is an important agreement that will achieve some significant market access opening for U.S. producers into the Chinese market, improved intellectual property protection in China, expanded market access for U.S. financial service providers and hopefully make some progress on reducing or eliminating forced technology transfer and limit concerns about currency misalignment. My hats off to the negotiators for an impressive result. There remain important issues not yet addressed bilaterally that will hopefully be taken up in Phase 2 talks, but Phase 1 is an important accomplishment.

U.S.-China Phase 1 Agreement — What to Look for When the Agreement is Released on January 15, 2020 after the signing

The U.S. Administration has indicated that the Phase One trade deal with China is “historic and enforceable”. President Trump tweeted on New Year’s Eve that the agreement would be signed by him and the Chinese at the White House on January 15. The Chinese have reportedly modified their travel schedule to accommodate the President’s desired signing date although the Chinese delegation will be headed by Vice-Premier Liu He, not President Xi Jinping. See South China Morning Post, 5 January, 2020, Trade war: China to travel to US on January 13 to sign phase one deal.

According to a fact sheet released by USTR on December 13, 2019, the Phase One agreement has at least seven chapters dealing with (1) intellectual property, (2) technology transfer, (3) agriculture, (4) financial services, (5) currency, (6) expanding trade and (7) dispute resolution. The fact sheet is attached below.


The agreement between the U.S. and China is reportedly 86 pages in length. This compares to the draft agreement that was being circulated in mid-2019 that was 150 pages before major revisions were made by China reducing the text to 105 pages and which led to increased tariffs being imposed by the United States and additional retaliation by China. Important issues remain for phase two including cybersecurity issues, China 2025 related issues on state owned or invested enterprises, state subsidization and other matters.

I. Chapters on Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, Agriculture, Financial Services and Currency

Because the first five topics have been the subject of bilateral discussions and dispute settlement between the countries for years, the value of the chapters will depend both on the specificity of the obligations identified, the extent to which such obligations go to the provinces and local governments as well as the central government of China and, most importantly the nature and automaticity of the dispute settlement provisions that apply to the obligations undertaken. As reviewed in many USTR reports, China has a long history of making commitments in these areas which have not been implemented or only partially implemented. See, e.g., USTR, 2019 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers, pages 97-117, [“2019 NTE Report],

II. Chapter on Expanding Trade

The expanding trade chapter as the Fact Sheet indicates “includes commitments from China to import various U.S. goods and services over the next two years in a total amount that exceeds China’s annual level of imports for those goods and services in 2017 by no less than $200 billion.” USTR’s 2019 NTE Report indicated that U.S. exports of goods to China were $129.9 billion in 2017 and the U.S. exports of services were $57.6 billion in 2017. Thus, the agreement apparently calls for US exports of goods and services in 2020 and 2021 of at least $387.5 billion/year vs. $187.5 billion in 2017, a level more than twice the 2017 actual levels. The fact sheet suggests that commitments are product specific in terms of increased purchases. Industries will be looking carefully at what is included in this chapter on products or services of interest, seeing whether China waives any retaliatory tariffs on particular products during 2020 and 2021, and evaluating early signs of improved market access. Presumably the Administration and Congress will be monitoring on a monthly basis how commitments are being implemented in both goods and services.

Considering the large decline in U.S. exports of goods to China during the first 10 months of 2019 ($16.1 billion or 17.17%) and for some products in 2018 vs. 2017 or 2016, one may expect “commitments” in a variety of products where a return to 2017 levels or significant increases would appear to be manageable. See e.g,. HS 8800, civil aircraft (2019 10 month decline of $5.3 billion in U.S. domestic exports); HS 1201, soybeans (decline 2016-2018 of $11.1 billion); HS 8701, motor vehicles for transporting people (decline 2017-2018 of $3.7 billion); HS 2709 petroleum oils from crude (2019 10 month decline of $2.7 billion); HS 2707, petroleum gases and other gaseous hydrocarbons (2019 10 month decline of $1.3 billion); HS 8708 parts of tractors and motor vehicles (2019 10 month decline of $813 million); HS 7404, copper waste and scrap (2019 10 month decline of $633 million); HS 4407. wood sawn or chipped more than 6 mm thick (2019 10 month decline of $612 million) ; HS 4403, wood in the rough (2019 10 month decline of $504 million); HS 1007, grain sorghum (2019 10 month decline of $403 million).

Other factors, such as existing or available expanded capacity, needs for worker expansion vs. greater utilization of existing workforce, competitiveness of U.S. products, diversion from third countries or from the U.S., will obviously all have some potential effect on whether commitments can be achieved at a micro level if purchase orders are placed.

For services, it is assumed that significant increases to China are possible with liberalized markets in China.

III. Dispute Resolution

The chapter of Dispute Resolution appears to contain consultation processes at “both the principal level and the working level” and procedures for handling disputes with provisions that “allow each party to take proportionate responsive actions” that a party views as appropriate. This chapter is important both for the specifics and timing of the consultation process and the specifics of how disputes will be handled, the timing of such disputes and any parameters on “responsive actions”. At the end of the day, an agreement with China that is not enforceable will lead back to increased tensions in the near future.

IV. Conclusion

The Phase I agreement has the potential to be an important step in the U.S. efforts to establish a more sustainable trade relationship with China. The Administration deserves credit for aggressively pursuing a reset. Breaking the negotiations into phases carries risks as the more difficult issues remain on the table and are very important in terms of long-term viability of the bilateral trade relationship. Not finding solutions in a single agreement will be viewed by many as weakening the chances for achieving a breakthrough on these critical issues that are left for phase 2.

At the same time, the chapter on “Expanding Trade” is highly unorthodox in terms of its (at least temporarily) invoking managed trade to address the hundreds of barriers that have haunted the ability of the U.S. and others to have market-based results in trade with China. Because several decades of efforts to get China to actually operate on market principles have been unsuccessful and because the WTO rules do not address many of China’s economic system distortions, the chapter and underlying commitments that have been made are an experiment is finding a way forward for economic systems that don’t rationally coexist where there are major countries employing each economic system. The next two years will show whether the experiment provides a possible approach to the coexistence of such different systems in a global economy where companies are already operating in both systems.